Smokers paying more for health care insurance

Cigarettes, file photo

May 23, 2012 10:22:14 AM PDT
Employees at MD Anderson in the medical center, and others who work for the UT system, may have to pay out a little more for their health insurance if they smoke.

But is it a good way to help people to kick the habit? Or is it just a chance for insurance companies to make more money?

Smokers under UT benefits have just a few more weeks to admit whether or not they smoke. From there, they will start seeing the extra charges every month.

Starting September 1, some smokers will have to pay up for lighting up. The new surcharge will affect thousands of employees and their families not only in Houston, but across the state.

Dr. Maher Karam-Hage with MD Anderson said, "The argument is that it's costly. It costs more to insure somebody who is a smoker versus a non-smoker."

Under the new plan, members will be charged an additional $30 a month if they declare themselves smokers. The same fee will apply to a spouse and any children 16 or older who light up.

This added fee isn't sitting well with some employees.

"They're doing it to us on the cigarettes themselves," said smoker Larry Fly. "Now the insurance companies want to charge us more for being smokers, too."

Fly, who works for MD Anderson, says he feels targeted.

"You're not charging people overweight for being overweight," he said. "You're not charging people with diabetes for having diabetes."

Dr. Karam-Hage, who heads up the MD Anderson tobacco treatment program, says this is an incentive to get smokers to quit. He says since employees have been notified about the changes, an additional 10 to 15 people have now enrolled in programs to help them quit.

He said, "Most smokers really want to quit but they just try and it doesn't work, or they tried last year and they feel now is the right time to try again."

Other smokers we spoke with say, although it's an added expense, they work in the medical field and understand the reasons behind the new program.

"We feel targeted because I am a smoker," said MD Anderson employee Billy Shaw. "But then you don't feel targeted, because we are at a hospital."

UT health benefits isn't the only health care provider to implement this type of program. But because their program is new, there is no word yet on how the charges will be enforced.


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