Published May 31, 2013
If you smoke or you're overweight, have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, you could be forced to pay a lot more for health insurance, according to new regulations just issued by the Obama administration.
"For smoking, for being overweight, for being obese and basically, for generally not meeting the health guidelines, the employer can charge 30 percent more - for smoking, 50 percent more," explains John Goodman, President of the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas.
ObamaCare does prevent insurers from charging more for pre-existing conditions, or from charging as much as they currently do for older people who use more health care.
But when it comes to smoking and being overweight as well as other health problems, if employees don't participate in wellness programs, they could pay more.
Ed Haislmeier of the Heritage Foundation says "on the one hand they're trying to ban discrimination based on health status, but on the other hand they're trying to say that some discrimination based on health status is good discrimination."
Goodman adds that "it is definitely the nanny state trying to tell us what we're going to do, and unleashing the employers to be the agent of the government in telling us what we're going to do."
Smokers, of course, run up more health care bills than non-smokers. But that habit and some other unhealthy conditions are associated with lower incomes, so higher rates would hit those the administration was aiming to help.
"Allowing premium differentials based on these factors will push premiums higher primarily on people that will be struggling to pay the premiums in the first place," says Jim Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Many employers already offer wellness programs, but the new 123-page regulation tells them exactly how they must operate.
"This is just one more massive regulation on top of the thousands and thousands of pages that have already been issued that employers have to deal with," says Capretta. "I think the whole system is starting to choke on so many rules."
Ironically, on the day officials released the new regulations, a Rand Corporation study about wellness programs was released – and not with good news.
Goodman noted it was "a Rand Corporation study, which was paid for by the Obama administration, and called for in the affordable care act.
"And the Rand Corporation has studied wellness programs all over the country, and basically says they don't work."
In fact, the study found that those trying to lose weight in these programs lost an average of a pound a year. And although some employers offer gym memberships, those who take them are the ones using the gym already -- not those who need it most.