- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana’s health insurer for 230,000 state workers, teachers, retirees and their families has scrapped a plan to charge smokers more for their coverage.

Attorney General Jeff Landry challenged the legal authority of the Office of Group Benefits levying a surcharge on tobacco users for insurance coverage. After Landry raised the concerns, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration withdrew the proposal, at least for now.

The Advocate reports the smoker surcharge was part of a proposal from the Office of Group Benefits to raise more than $24 million to cover costs - without raising insurance premiums on the full 230,000 people covered by its plans.

It wasn’t clear how many smokers would have faced a surcharge under the now-shelved proposal. Landry’s office argued the proposal discriminates against smokers, which state law specifically prohibits.

“The Edwards administration’s OGB, like any other state agency, is required to comply with the law,” Landry said Tuesday in a statement.

At a June 28 hearing before the governing board for the Office of Group Benefits, Emily Gale Andrews, a lawyer in the attorney general’s office, said an attempt to target tobacco users “opens the door for other forms of discrimination, including weight, alcohol use, et cetera.”

The Edwards administration said Landry’s concerns played a “small part” in its decision but weren’t the only reason to put the smoker surcharge plan on hold, said Jacques Berry, spokesman for Edwards’ Division of Administration.

“We’re not pulling it. We’re pressing pause,” Berry said.

In addition to not charging smokers extra, the Office of Group Benefits also is not following through on a proposed surcharge to cover employee spouses who have the option to receive insurance from their own employers but choose to join the state plan instead.

The state health insurer, however, will follow through on other plans to raise money to pay for increasing medical costs by boosting some out-of-pocket charges and co-pays in certain coverage plans. Those proposals are expected to take effect in January.

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Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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