D.C. officials setting up an insurance marketplace under President Obama’s health care law have barred insurance companies from charging higher premiums to smokers, citing potentially adverse effects on low-income populations and minorities.
The D.C. Health Benefit Exchange’s executive board said that although the Affordable Care Act allows states to authorize a 50-percent surcharge on frequent users of tobacco products — because of smokers’ increased risk of health problems — they estimated that one in five D.C. residents uses tobacco regularly. They said the rate of tobacco use is even higher, 30.8 percent, among black residents.
“Tobacco use is a pre-existing medical condition and a central tenet of our health reform efforts is to open the health insurance market to millions of people who have been shut out due to their health,” said Mohammad Akhter, the chairman of the board who took a leave of absence from a well-paying position in Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s cabinet to voluntarily lead efforts to set up the exchange by Oct. 1.
Other states have decided not to hit smokers with a surcharge, and the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association are against charging higher premiums to smokers, the board noted.