Health insurance unaffordable for smokers? Here's another way to look at it

Smoking penalty: Individual health care coverage could become unaffordable for many people is the headline of an Associated Press editorial masquerading as a news story. The gist of the piece is that older smokers won’t be able to afford health insurance because health plans will be allowed to charge smokers up to 50 percent more than what non-smokers pay. The article strongly implies that the law is unfair to smokers and should be changed.

But rather than frame the piece as smokers not being able to afford health insurance, maybe AP should have described it as people not being able to afford to keep smoking. According to the CDC, about 70 percent of smokers want to quit, so perhaps the added financial inducement will succeed where other smoking cessation approaches have failed.

Smokers really do cost health plans more so it’s not as though the rule is without merit. And imagine how happy an ex-smoker will be when s/he saves thousands on health insurance and thousands more by not paying for cigarettes.

In case you wonder why I criticized the article for being a masked editorial, here’s the lead paragraph:

Millions of smokers could be priced out of health insurance because of tobacco penalties in President Barack Obama’s health care law, according to experts who are just now teasing out the potential impact of a little-noted provision in the massive legislation.

Here’s what’s wrong just with that sentence:

  • It’s not President Obama’s health care law. It was passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by Obama.
  • Who says experts are “just now teasing out the impact” or that the provision is “little-noted”? This provision is pretty clear and wasn’t hidden.
  • And what’s the point of calling the legislation “massive”? It doesn’t contribute anything to the story

3 thoughts on “Health insurance unaffordable for smokers? Here's another way to look at it”

  1. You called this story a masked editorial and I think that’s exactly right.

    In addition to the points you’ve made, the story also failed to mention that smokers are already charged a lot more for a health plan than non-smokers, if they can get coverage at all. And, it failed to provide readers with any reasonable context by making an issue of the fact that an older person can be charged 3 times more than a younger person under the law, but never mentioning that today the ratio for age on the private market is more like 8:1 or even 10:1 in some cases. So, while it’s true many people may still not be able to afford coverage — which is absolutely a problem worth noting — you’d think by reading this piece that it’s an attainable and affordable product today without the law’s main provisions in place. It most certainly is not.

    What’s more, the article walked through the potential cost of a health plan after 2014 for an older smoker. It would have been more instructive for readers to understand how those numbers compare with the cost of the same plan today…and again, making the point that it’s likely their example older smoker would just flat out be denied coverage.

  2. I guess with this law coming into force, many people who smoke might be forced to kick the butt, some thing for which they will thank Barack Obama for the rest of their lives.

    Smoking is an addiction, which is responsible for lots of deaths.

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