Michelle Andrews answers a question from a reader about how the health law affects insurance for smokers and programs may help them quit.
QUESTION: The health law will soon allow some insurers to charge up to 50 percent higher premiums for smokers. How will the insurer know who is a smoker? As an HR rep, how will I be able to convince our employees to take this seriously? — Ann
ANDREWS: The provisions that allow insurers to charge smokers higher premiums take effect in January and apply to health plans sold on the individual and small group markets that aren’t grandfathered under the law. The insurer may well rely on people to self-report their tobacco use, asking them, for example, if they’ve used tobacco regularly in the past six months. You’re apparently concerned that people won’t disclose that they’re smokers, and some may not. But it’s important to remember that research shows that most smokers want to quit, and under the health law people won’t be penalized as long as they’re trying to do so, even if they don’t succeed. If a company has a wellness program that offers a tobacco cessation program and if smokers participate in it, they’re not going to have to pay the higher rate. Participation is enough, workers don’t have to actually succeed at quitting, which often takes several tries. So that may encourage people to ‘fess up to their smoking habit.