The slippery slope of punishing behavior

August 21, 2013

Smoking is bad for you. Let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. It’s also bad for the wallet, with a pack of premium-quality smokes now costing upward of $6, in large part because the government has found smokers to be a cash cow. And now it’s going to get worse for those who light up.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies taking part in online health-care exchanges will be allowed, unless otherwise prohibited at the state level, to charge much higher premiums to smokers. We can understand this. People who smoke are opening themselves up to all sorts of ills, from lung cancer to heart disease and more, and the costs of treating their self-inflicted ailments are spread to others who are insured by the same carriers.

But at the same time, there’s an issue of fairness here, or lack thereof. People who become fat because of their own gluttony and laziness also are inviting a host of health problems, yet they are not targeted under the law. Neither are people who eat a diet heavy on red meat, or those who are bad drivers, or folks who live a sedentary lifestyle. All are at greater risk of illnesses or injuries that can cost a lot to treat, but they suffer no insurance consequences.

When we begin to charge people for health coverage based on how they live their lives, where do we stop? And will the insurance companies’ next demand be for testing to determine their customers’ risks for some hereditary illnesses. You might think the government would not allow that to happen, but don’t underestimate the power that those with money, like the insurance industry, have on your elected officials.



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