Tobacco users will still have to pay higher health insurance premiums!
The passing of the Affordable Care Act reduced many of the costs associated with health insurance. Tax Credits issued through the government allow for less expensive monthly health insurance premiums. In addition, insurance companies can no longer charge more for those with pre-existing conditions. In the wake of the law’s cost-cutting measures, insurance companies are still able to tobacco users higher prices for smoking–sometimes up to 50 percent!
What is the definition of a tobacco user?
A tobacco user is one who uses tobacco products four or more times per week in the past six months. If you are unsure whether you fit the definition, reflect on your tobacco usage during the past week. If you used tobacco four times this week, and if you’ve kept this habit for more than six months, then the insurance companies will label you a tobacco user.
What does the insurance company consider “tobacco products?”
- Pipe Tobacco
- E-Cigarettes or “Vape”
- Chewing Tobacco
How much more will the insurance company charge me if I use tobacco products?
An insurance company has the right to charge up to 50% higher premiums for tobacco users. While the states allow insurance companies to drastically increase premiums for smokers, not many states charge the full 50 percent. Instead, the insurance companies generally charge tobacco users 10-20 percent higher rates.
In Tennessee, a 31 year old, single man from Chattanooga, Tennessee with a $25,000 income is looking for health plans. The man admits that he is a tobacco user, and the cheapest plan in his market is $104/month. If the man did not smoke, the same plan would cost $75 per month. This means that the man would have saved $29 dollars on his monthly premium, or roughly 39 percent.
Why do insurance companies charge these increased rates for tobacco users?
Tobacco usage is linked to many deathly illnesses and conditions that are costly to maintain. COPD, Heart Disease, Cancer, Stroke and Hypertension are common examples of the illnesses and conditions associated with tobacco usage.
Insurance companies know that their costs are higher in managing theses sicknesses. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the company to increase premium prices to aid with the higher costs.
Is there a way to lower my health insurance premiums if I smoke?
Yes. There are health insurance companies out there that charge the same rates for smokers and non-smokers alike. However, these companies are few and far between. I spent 20 minutes searching Google for “smoker-friendly health insurance companies.” I was able to find that Aetna and Vista charge the same rates for tobacco and non-tobacco users in Florida. That was it.
Of course, you can always lie on your health insurance application. However, knowing the consequences is super important. Most likely, you will not get dropped from the insurance company, but the insurance company can demand that the insured start paying the tobacco surcharge. In addition, the insurance company can sue to recover lost premiums. Furthermore, if you have group health insurance through work, you can lose your job for misrepresenting your smoking status. Whirpool fired 39 people in 2009 who lied about their tobacco status on the group health application.
The best way to lower insurance premiums is to quit using tobacco products.
How do I quit using tobacco?
Plenty of good resources exist for whenever you decide to begin this process. A common way to begin this process is to speak with a doctor.
Also, many great websites provide a wealth of information about tobacco cessation such as smokefree.gov, the American Lung Association, and the Center for Disease Control (cdc.gov).
Quitting Hotlines and Group Cessation classes are quite common practices for tobacco cessation all across the United States. In Tennessee, a hotline called the Tennessee Tobacco Quitline is a free resource to all Tennessee residents looking to stop using tobacco. Residents who call 1-800-QUITLINE have the privilege of working with a Personal Quit Coach.
Local Group Cessation classes are available locally at no cost to you. For example, there are four organizations in Chattanooga, Tennessee that help tobacco users quit. Erlanger Hospital, the Dotson Avenue Community Health Center, and the Southside Community Health Center all provide free Smoking Cessation courses. Memorial Hospital’s Center for Cancer Support offers these classes as well.
What is the take-away message here?
Tobacco users need to quit using tobacco to lower their health insurance premiums. Plenty of free resources are available to help tobacco users quit such as Group Cessation Classes and Quitting Hotlines. Tobacco users can save up to 50 percent by dropping their tobacco usage habits!
Philip Strang is an agent/broker with American Exchange. Call him at 423-424-0586 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.