Under a provision of the law, smokers can be charged up to 50 percent more than nonsmokers for health insurance beginning in 2014. Current regulations allow companies to require workers who fail to meet specific standards to pay up to 20 percent of their insurance costs.
George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf helped persuade HHS and Congress to include the surcharges for smokers in the law. “The largest totally unnecessary expense that most corporations and employers bear—which unfortunately are largely passed along to their employees—are the unnecessary medical and other costs [of] smoking,” he says.
The surcharge is an effective method of discouraging smokers. It also may result in more wellness programs aimed at reducing the number of workers who light up, Banzhaf says.
But as an alternative, some employers have decided that the best way to avoid such costs is to not hire smokers at all. Though there are laws in place in some states prohibiting that, he argues they’re rarely enforced. Hiring only nonsmokers eliminates the time and money to establish a wellness program to help smokers.