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Gov. Scott Walker's proposed $50-a-month fee for state employees who smoke faces some surprising opponents: anti-smoking advocates.

Smoke Free Wisconsin, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids don't support such surcharges on health insurance.

The fees make coverage less affordable for smokers and aren't proven to get them to quit, the groups say.

"A surcharge puts up a barrier for many people — particularly low-income people, where we see the higher rates of smoking," said Dona Wininsky, a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association in Wisconsin.

The groups are fighting similar provisions in the federal health reform law that allow insurance companies to charge smokers up to 50 percent more than non-smokers.

"There is little scientific evidence or research showing that financial incentives or disincentives tied to health insurance premiums will compel an individual to quit," the American Cancer Society said in a statement last week.

Cigarette taxes, smoke-free laws and tobacco prevention and cessation programs work better, the groups say.

Walker proposed the $50-a-month surcharge as part of his 2013-15 budget to offset long-term employee health care costs.

Smokers cost a third more to insure than non-smokers, said Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration. The fee, affecting about 10 percent of the 69,000 state employees, would save $2.7 million over two years, she said.

At least nine states have similar provisions, Marquis said.

Among the employees likely affected: the state's new top health official, Department of Health Services secretary Kitty Rhoades.

Rhoades, at least until recently, has been a smoker. The department oversees the state's tobacco prevention and control program. She and two spokeswomen didn't respond to questions about her stance on the surcharge.

Formerly deputy secretary, Rhoades was named to the top spot last week when Dennis Smith said he was starting a job this week at a Washington, D.C., law firm.

Laura Smith — spokeswoman for Smoke Free Wisconsin, part of Health First Wisconsin — said the state should increase funding for tobacco prevention and control instead of implementing the surcharge.

Walker's budget calls for $5.32 million a year for such efforts. As recently as 2008-09, the state spent nearly three times more.

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(5) comments

yojo

What would be next taxing fat people? (thats me) or someone who drinks more than once a week? Tax Gov Walker because he looks funny? If its a legal activity stay out of peoples business.

smalltownmom

From the Fiscal Times - Top 10 Insanely Paid Non-profit Execs - #2. John Seffrin, CEO, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, GA - $2.1 million
As head of the American Cancer Society, the world’s largest voluntary health organization fighting cancer, since 1992. He’s paid handsomely for his duties, making a base salary of $587,477 in 2010 on top of nearly $1.5 million in deferred compensation. I'm sure he never inhaled.............

FUBAR

So should we charge fees to FAT people for their over eating and unhealthy eating?

SeeTheWritingOnTheWall

Wake up people where does pricing increases to certain groups of people for their insurance ever stop then? ....Who is next diabetics,over weight people,individuals unfortunately born with any medical condition OUR ELDERLY. Why ever open pandora's box and allow the insurance companys such power it's unethical and wrong. Last tine I checked I lived in America does that still stand for anything anymore all the anti smoking has really gone to far. Are we all so over worked and to tried to get involved anymore? I see were it"s all headed .....making insurance company wealthy. My Aunt had Leukemia no insurance co. will insure her for less the $1000.00 a month it's called high risk insurance..... then that's the future for ALL of us for one reason or another we will all be uninsured or robbed of our money.

Rational Independent

Many more people suffer illnesses and even die as the result of alcohol use and abuse then tobacco. should we also place an addition fee on those who drink. more people die from obesity related illnesses. should we place addition fees on them as well? another stupid idea to try and place the blame of increased health care costs on smokers. ps.... most tobacco related illnesses occur in the later years of life, presumably well after an employee's years of. service to the state.

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