In case you don’t have enough reasons to quit smoking already, here’s another one for you. If you are a smoker, you will pay as much as 50 percent more for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act than you would if you were a non-smoker. Even more, if you are an older American who smokes, your premiums could be literally out of sight. The ACA (or Obamacare) allows insurers to charge older adults up to three times as much as they charge for a young adult. Then, in addition to that surcharge, if you smoke, you will pay as much as 50 percent more than non-smokers for the same coverage. In addition, any federal subsidies you receive are not applied to the penalty for smoking.
Don’t Want to Pay More? Then Quit
The only way you can escape the smoker penalty under Obamacare is to quit smoking. Of course, it’s not always that simple. Quitting is hard. However, there are many ways you can find assistance with the process. There are two parts to nicotine addiction that have to be addressed for you to quit smoking successfully: the mental addiction and the physical addiction.
Mental addiction is the psychological basis of one's smoking habits. Getting to the root of this can be a complex matter, as this can be as wide and varied as the human brain itself. A smoker's physical addiction is formed by the effects of nicotine on the brain and the high that follows. Beating both of these is no easy feat, and each requires their own set of tactics.
Beating the Mental Side
You might be one of those people who can successfully quit on your own, but if you need help, it is available in many different forms. Here are some of the methods that can help you with the mental addiction part of smoking.
- Telephone-based programs. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have a free, telephone-based smoking cessation program available to residents. You simply call the number and you are connected with a trained counselor. They will help you plan your method of quitting that will fit your lifestyle. You can contact a counselor at any time of the day or night, so when that craving hits, you’ll be able to speak to someone who can talk you out of lighting up.
- Support groups. As with Alcohol Anonymous, support groups for smokers trying to kick the habit are prevalent in most communities. Some employers, hospitals and health clinics offer smoking cessation programs as well. Some are operated by professional counselors, while others are run by volunteers. Just knowing you are not alone can help you fight the urge to smoke.
- Family and friends. Let your family and friends know you are trying to quit smoking. They will likely offer you support and encouragement as you go through the tough parts of quitting. In addition, try to hang around ex-smokers and non-smokers so that you don’t get caught up in doing what everyone else is doing. Make sure you socialize in smoke-free settings as much as possible during your cravings phase.
Beating the Physical Side
At one time, it was believed that nicotine wasn’t physically addictive. Many people tried to quit cold turkey because they thought success was simply mind over matter. In the end, though, many of those people would ultimately fail because medical evidence has proven that nicotine is physically addictive. So, not only do you have to have help with the mental aspects of quitting, but you also have to find help to curb your physical cravings. Here are some available tools to get you started.
- Nicotine replacement therapy. This is the most common form of physical addiction help. You will be provided with a mechanism that delivers nicotine to your system without inhaling it through a cigarette. Nicotine replacement therapy comes in the form of patches, inhalers, sprays, gums or lozenges and can alleviate your withdrawal symptoms by as much as 90 percent.
- Antidepressants. There is some evidence that taking prescription antidepressants can aid in smoking cessation. Nicotine withdrawal can produce symptoms that mimic depression or can cause a major depressive phase as you fight the cravings to smoke. In addition, it is possible that some antidepressants could block nicotine receptors and reduce the withdrawal symptoms.
- Other prescription medications. Some people might find other prescription medications helpful in their attempt to quit smoking. In particular, Chantix is a prescription drug that was specifically developed for the task. It blocks the nicotine receptors in the brain, reducing cravings and other withdrawal symptoms. It also lessens the pleasure you feel when you smoke. Clonidine, a drug approved to treat high blood pressure, has also shown promise in helping smokers quit, especially smokers who have been smoking heavily for many years.
Be aware that all medications have side effects and there are specific warnings for each drug that you should carefully pay attention to before starting any form of medication. Always speak with your doctor prior to taking anything to help you quit smoking.
In addition to these medically accepted methods of smoking cessation, there are other unconventional methods that may or may not help you in your quest to kick your habit. These are:
- Hypnosis. There has been conflicting information as to whether or not this method is effective; however, it can’t hurt you to try it. Your physician can recommend a trustworthy hypnotherapist.
- Acupuncture. As with hypnosis, there is not much evidence that this method is effective. Again, if you want to give it a shot, it can’t harm you. Acupunture for smoking cessation is usually performed on your ears.
- Laser therapy. This form of smoking cessation help has not been confirmed, but it is said to release endorphins in the brain that mimic the effects of nicotine.
- Electronic cigarettes – Although this method purports to help smokers quit because they can continue the physical act of smoking while withdrawing from the nicotine, the American Cancer Society does not support this method primarily because the ingredients in the e-cigarettes do not have to be labeled. You don’t know what you are putting in your body and it could be just as harmful as smoking the real thing.
What Methods are Covered by Insurance?
Currently, just nine states require health insurance companies to cover smoking cessation claims. These are Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont. However, even if you live in a state where it’s not required, your company might still cover it. The easiest way to find out is to simply give your insurer a call and ask. Here are the most common forms of smoking-cessation products that are covered by insurance companies:
- Nicotine Replacement Therapy
- Over-the counter medications if prescribed by a doctor
- Discounts on smoking cessation classes offered through participating hospitals
In addition to the above benefits, many health insurance companies offer their own smoking cessation support groups and classes at no charge to their members.
Of course, you can always wait until Obamacare goes into effect on January 1, 2014 to quit. This isn’t going to save you money on this year’s premiums, but if you successfully quit smoking, you will save on premiums in the future. Obamacare considers tobacco-cessation counseling an essential health benefit, and therefore, all insurance companies selling plans through Obamacare must cover some form of smoking cessation benefits. The actual methods that will be covered will still be determined on a state-by-state basis, but at least you can be certain you will have help when you finally take the steps toward becoming smoke free.