Monday, July 29, 2013

Smoking & Medical Health Insurance

Smoking is an expensive habit for everyone covered under a group policy.

In addition to the multitude of health risks associated with it, smoking is also an expensive habit for the individual smoker, his family, employer and the nation as a whole. For individual insurance plans, premiums are often higher for smokers. For group policies, legal obstacles sometimes prevent the insurer from charging a premium differential. This usually drives up the insurance cost for everybody.


According to the Centers for Disease Control, the risk of lung cancer is 23 times higher among male smokers and 13 times higher for female smokers, compared to nonsmokers. The risks for mouth and throat cancer also rise significantly for smokers. Smoking also increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease two to four fold, while doubling the risk of a stroke. In fact, there is practically no organ in the body that isn't adversely affected by smoking. The risk for numerous diseases and complications, from peripheral vascular disease to abdominal aortic aneurysm, goes up drastically as a result of smoking.


The increase in health risks leads to an increase in costs for the individual as well as his employer and health care provider. In addition to the obviously higher cost of medical care that must be provided for smokers, such workers also have higher rates of absenteeism. According to an internal study carried out by the Union Camp Corporation, every nonsmoking worker saved the company $284 of sick pay.

Higher Premiums

Health insurance premiums often, but not always, reflect the higher cost associated with caring for smokers. The state of North Carolina, for instance, charges 10 percent more for health care premiums from smokers, compared to their nonsmoking counterparts. Quotes for individually purchased health insurance policies reflect a similar difference for smokers, which can add up to a substantial financial burden over the course of a year.

Nondiscrimination Laws

The reason not all employers can ask for higher health premium contributions from smokers is that a number of conditions must be met for such premium differentials to be considered nondiscriminatory. The differential in premiums cannot exceed 20 percent, individuals must be given a chance to qualify for the lower premiums at least once a year and the plan must provide some help in the form of quitting programs for the smokers. It is not always easy for employers to satisfactorily meet these conditions, which makes some employers reluctant to vary rates for smokers, due to the fear of potential lawsuits.


Most employers, insurance providers and the government recognize the need for quitting the habit of smoking and help is available from numerous sources. Most major health insurers have educational materials as do many state governments. Numerous employers also offer financial rewards to quit smoking. The Centers for Disease Control has a program for smokers that can be accessed free of charge at 800-QUIT-NOW or 800-784-8669.

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