U.S. Health Care Reform -- make smokers pay more..

November 2, 2009 - As Congress debates who should cough up the cash for health care reform, some advocacy groups offer one answer: smokers.

"The great majority of people who do not smoke should not be forced to pay the costs of people who do," said John Banzhaf, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health. Banzhaf is urging Congress to hit smokers with a surcharge on health insurance premiums, with the bulk of revenue helping the federal government pay for a reform package.

If smokers got lit up for an extra $60 per month, it would generate $33 billion a year, he estimates.

Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, a Washington-based nonprofit, said making smokers pay more is all about equity.

"Everyone who doesn't smoke pays for the people who do smoke - that to us is not fair," she said, noting how smokers are at higher risk for costly diseases.

Lawmakers have not put a sock-it-to-smokers mandate in the various health care bills winding their way through Congress.

The bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee, for example, lets insurers charge smokers up to 50% more than nonsmokers, but it's not a requirement.

Smokers want Banzhaf and his allies to butt out.

"It's ludicrous on its face," said Gary Nolan, 55, a regional director of Citizens Freedom Alliance, aka the Smoker's Club. "It's just another opportunity on the part of anti-smoking extremists to try to social engineer smoking out of society."

Daniel Seidman, director of smoking cessation services at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia, said a smoking surcharge would be an unfair penalty on the poor.

"Resources should be put into the system to make it easier to help smokers quit," Seidman said.

Reference: $33B off the puffers: Hit smokers up for health care costs, advocacy group urges by Michael Saul (msaul@nydailynews.com), NY DAILY NEWS POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, 11/1/2009.