Most Kentuckians don’t think insurance rates should be higher for the obese, but are divided on increasing smokers’ rates

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

By a very small margin, Kentuckians think insurance rates should be higher for smokers if the insurance company provides a free smoking cessation program, but most don’t think rates should be higher for those who are overweight, says the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll.

The poll, taken Oct. 8 to Nov. 6, found that 50 percent of Kentucky adults said it would be justified to set higher insurance rates for people who smoke, while 45 percent said it wouldn’t be justified. Five percent were undecided. This finding was basically the same whether the person had insurance or not.

The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, which applies to each number, so the results were right on the error margin. That means in 19 of 20 cases, the results would be the same if the entire adult population of Kentucky were asked the question.

The poll found that most Kentuckians who have never smoked (63 percent) said insurance companies should not set higher insurance rates for people who smoke. Former smokers, at 51 percent, were less likely to agree with that opinion.

With about 27 percent of Kentuckians smoking, Kentucky leads the nation in smoking percentage, lung cancer and lung cancer deaths, which collectively come with a price tag.

Smoking cost the state $1.92 billion a year for health-care expenditures directly as a result of tobacco use, which amounts to $988 million a year in total taxpayer cost from smoking-related expenses, or $591 per household, Wayne Meriweather, chief executive officer of Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center in Leitchfield, representing the Kentucky Hospital Association, told legislators in December.

The poll also found that the majority of Kentucky adults, 67 percent, think it is unjustified to set higher insurance rates for people who are significantly overweight. Opposition was higher, 77 percent, among those who reported being in fair or poor health; among those who said they were in excellent or very good health, only 58 percent were opposed.

Kentucky ranks fifth in the nation for adult obesity, with one in three Kentuckians considered obese, according the “States of Obesity” report. This also comes with a price tag.

study in the American Journal of Health Promotion found that a morbidly obese employee costs his or her employer approximately $4,000 more in health care and related costs every year than an employee of normal weight.

The poll was sponsored by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health, formerly the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, and was conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati. It surveyed a random sample of 1,597 adults via land lines and cell phones.

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