Insurance companies won't be able to charge smokers in the District of Columbia higher premiums, courtesy of the district's Health Benefit Exchange executive board, which voted Monday to eliminate smoking premiums in its health care exchanges under Obamacare.
The move effectively makes smoking "a pre-existing medical condition," according to Dr. Mohammad Akhter, the board's chairman, the National Review
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, states are permitted to impose a 50 percent surcharge for people who have used tobacco
at least four times a week over the last six months, reported the Washington Times.
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With the ruling, the District of Columbia joins the ranks of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont which have already eliminated smoking premiums in their health care exchanges.
According to an Institute for Health Policy Solutions study conducted in June 2012, such a surcharge would have a disproportionate effect on the district's older and poorer populations.
To illustrate the findings, the study presents a hypothetical situation of an elderly couple over the age of 60 whose earnings were at 150 percent of the federal poverty line. In the example, in which both individuals' smoking habits qualify them for the Obamacare surcharge, the couple could potentially face a health care premium equal to 48 percent of their total income.
The study prompted Akhter to conclude such smoking surcharges were "basically unaffordable."
While just over 21 percent of Americans smoke regularly, in D.C. the average is slightly lower at 20.8 percent. Among black residents in the district, however, the smoking rate is significantly higher at 30.8 percent.
The move was applauded by the American Cancer Society.
"Just because people have become addicted to a terrible drug is not a reason to turn our back on them in providing health care," said David Woodmansee, associate director of state and local campaigns for the American Cancer Society.
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As noted in the Health Policy Solutions study, low-income individuals are more likely to smoke, reported The Washington Times.
"This is the population that needs health care the most," Woodmansee said. "We are anti-smoking for sure, but we are not anti-smoker."
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