Health Care Is Up to 22% Higher for Smokers

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- You want to save 14% on your health care insurance premiums?

If you're a smoker, just stop puffing away and the 14% is out of the health care provider's pocket, back into yours.

No doubt, smoking is a drain on the nation's health care system. According to a 2012 government study, "Obesity and smoking have large long-term impacts on health care costs of working-age adults."

Additionally, a 2009 study from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention said smokers add $96 billion to total U.S. health care costs and another $97 billion in lost productivity.

A brand-new report from eHealth, a Mountain View, Calif.-based online health insurance exchange, says U.S. smokers pay an average monthly premium of $213, or 14% higher than the monthly premium paid by non-smokers ($187).

Women pay even more if they smoke. The eHealth report says that the average monthly premium paid by women smokers -- $247 -- is 22% higher than the average premium paid by non-smoking women (at $203 per month).

It's not just smoking that's adding to American's health care insurance costs.

The report also notes that Americans defined as "obese" pay health insurance premiums that are 22% higher than non-obese Americans (from $207 per month to $169 per month).

Researchers studied more than 224,000 major individual health care policies to calculate the report's data.

"This is valuable data for consumers and advocacy groups working on important health issues related to smoking and overall fitness," explains Gary Lauer, eHealth's chief executive. "For the second year in a row now, we've been able to put a dollar figure on what smoking and an unhealthy BMI may cost Americans in terms of higher health insurance premiums in the individual market."

It seems, however, that smokers and overweight Americans aren't getting the message.

Similar data from eHealth in December 2011 show pretty much the same figures, with smokers paying 14% more for health care insurance and obese Americans paying 22% more.

Why Americans wouldn't want to hold onto an extra $26 per month, plus lots more from avoiding the high costs of cigarettes, is a mystery -- an unhealthy and expensive one, too.

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