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Smokers to face steep health insurance penalty

Smokers looking to buy health insurance may soon be in for some sticker shock.
   
Tobacco users will face up to a 50 percent surcharge on rates when the Health Insurance Marketplace opens on Tuesday. It's all part of the Affordable Care Act , also known as Obamacare.

Because smokers rack up more health care costs than non-smokers, supporters of the rule say they should have to pay more money. They're also hoping the law will encourage more smokers to quit.

"It just gives me more motivation," said Millie Bouchard, a smoker.

She and other tobacco users we spoke with were divided on whether increased premiums would stop them from lighting up.

Rick Boyd said, "I probably should anyway, but I haven't."

But Jac Bryan, another smoker, said, "No. Nothing so far including my health has stopped me from smoking."
   
Insurers can start implementing the surcharges next year. Smokers shopping for insurance through the health exchanges that open Tuesday will likely see the increased rates for 2014.

Under the rule, a 25 year-old single man might be charged a premium of $150 a month, but if he's a smoker that could go up an extra $75 a month.
   
Older people, who can be charged as much as three times more as young people, could be hit much harder.

"I guess it's understandable in some respects," Bouchard said, "Smoking is a choice."

"It certainly contributes to health problems, but so does a lot of other things," Bryan argued.

Opponents of the rule include the American Lung Association. They say smokers need health care and that there is no proof higher costs for insurance cause smokers to quit.

"It's part of how we handle life," Bryan said, "It's part of how we handle our emotions. We get upset, we smoke a cigarette. We're happy, we smoke a cigarette."

Plans under the the Affordable Care Act are required to waive the surcharge for any smoker who enrolls in an approved program to quit.