The Affordable Care Act allows health insurers to charge smokers buying individual policies up to 50 percent higher premiums starting Jan. 1, 2014.  Younger smokers could be charged lower penalties under rules proposed in the fall by the Obama administration.  But older smokers could face a heavy hit on their household budgets at a time in life when smoking-related illnesses tend to emerge.

The law allows insurers to charge older adults up to three times as much as their youngest customers and allows them to levy the full 50 percent penalty on older smokers while charging less to younger ones. On top of that, the government tax credits that will be available to help pay premiums cannot be used to offset the cost of penalties for smokers.

Workers covered through their employers would be able to avoid tobacco penalties by joining smoking-cessation programs because employers’ plans operate under different rules. But experts say that option is not guaranteed to smokers trying to purchase coverage individually.

Insurers won’t be allowed to charge more under the overhaul for people who are overweight or have a health condition, such as a bad back or a heart that skips beats. Employers, though, can charge more if a person smokes.

Nearly one of every five adults smokes. The ratio is higher among lower-income people, who also are more likely to work in jobs that don’t come with health insurance; therefore, they will depend on the new federal health-care law. Smoking increases the risk of developing heart disease, lung problems and cancer, contributing to nearly 450,000 deaths a year.

This is definitely an incentive to quit but it’s also a barrier for many people to get health insurance coverage.  This law can make it difficult for individuals that smoke to afford a policy and therefore go without health insurance.  This is one case where the poor and the elderly will be the hardest hit.  If nearly one in five people smoke, more so, lower income people, that’s a lot of people still unable to afford health insurance.  It might be time for smokers, especially those who have smoked 20 to 30 years to quit the habit.