2013-08-21 15:37:15 - WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 21, 2013): Britain's most prestigious medical journal has acknowledged that the 50% smoker surcharge under Obamacare seems to be more effective and far more efficient than the UK government's much more comprehensive and expensive "stop smoking" program, notes the public interest law professor responsible for the U.S.'s zero cost program.
According to the just-published article, the British program – under which smokers are provided free access to local National Health Service (NHS) stop smoking services, including visits to local health centers, a free stop smoking kit, access to a stop smoking helpline, and free prescriptions – helped smokers quit permanently only about 15% of the time. In contrast, the article acknowledged that charging smokers up to $5,000 more a year for their health insurance reportedly was apparently more effective, "with many employers reporting that it has halved smoking rates in the workplace.”
In the U.S., smoking costs the American economy about $300 billion a year, far more than the total cost of Obamacare. In the only court case where evidence was
presented under oath and subject to cross examination, a judge ruled that a single smoker cost his employer more than $12,000 annually.
Thus the potential savings from the 50% smoker surcharge are likely to be enormous, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who developed and helped legalize the concept of differential health insurance premiums, and lobbied for its inclusion for smokers under Obamacare.
Imposing personal responsibility – finally holding smokers responsible for a portion of the huge costs they now impose on others in the form of higher taxes and inflated health insurance premiums – seems to be a far more effective way of getting smokers to quit, and reduce these enormous costs, than expensive government-funded programs, says Banzhaf. "A surcharge is also certainly far more efficient since it costs nothing. Achieving the same result by raising cigarette taxes is even more efficient since it makes money while saving money,” he argues.
Public education campaigns, cessation programs, and other interventions may help people to quit but cost lots of money, whereas smoker surcharges – like higher cigarette taxes and smoking bans in workplaces and public places – are more effective at reducing smoking, and cost taxpayers nothing.
It's also becoming clear, he notes, that trying to reduce health care costs by just tinkering around the margins – e.g., by digitizing medical records, or using novel reimbursement schemes or better protocols for treating diseases, etc. – can bring down medical care costs only marginally, and that the only real savings come from the preventing diseases.
It's always much less expensive to prevent diseases like heart attacks, strokes, cancers, etc. in the first place than to find slightly more efficient ways to treat them once they have occurred, he notes.
In short, if we wish to reduce the largest single preventable and unnecessary expense and drain on our entire entitlement system, we have to start getting serious about smoking and smokers.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418