Smokers can be charged more for insurance under health care law

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Under the health care law, being sick won't keep you from getting insurance. And you won't have to pay more for insurance than others because of that. But if you're a smoker, you can be charged more.

Randall Sorensen met with an enrollment coordinator at Swope Health Services. Sorensen is a restaurant server who doesn't have health insurance. He's seeing possible options on the new marketplace. Actual prices won't be known until next Tuesday. But Karimah Baptiste of Swope gave him an estimate. A bronze plan, the least expensive, could cost Randall more than $3,700 a year.

Sorensen said he couldn't afford that.

"Not unless I give up living indoors and live in my truck," said Sorensen.

So why that price? Sorensen smokes. Under the law, insurers can charge smokers up to 50 percent more. The American Lung Association says the surcharge is meant to discourage the continued use of tobacco. The estimate was based on the full surcharge.

"That's what I get for being honest, I guess," said Sorensen.

Many think the surcharge will encourage smokers to lie and say they don't smoke in order to save money. So, what was Baptiste's recommendation for Sorensen?

"The best plan would be to quit smoking," said Baptiste.

Or Sorensen could go without coverage and avoid a penalty simply because the insurance would cost him more than eight percent of his income.

Baptiste encouraged Sorensen to go to the website healthcare.gov after the marketplace opens next week. See what the actual prices will be.

"So you may be surprised," she said.

Under the law, insurance rates can also be based on your zip code and your age, but private insurers are now limited to charging older people no more than three times as much as younger ones.

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