Thursday, November 14, 2013

Insurance Plans & Nicotine Testing

Cigarettes can prove far more expensive than the cost of the pack.

The use of tobacco causes many health problems. Life and health insurance companies have a strong incentive to modify the premiums they charge smokers in order to mitigate the financial impact of insuring tobacco users. To verify the accuracy of insured people's denial of using tobacco, they use chemical testing.


Tobacco contains a highly addictive drug called nicotine. Scientists believe that the plants evolved this as a pesticide, since in high doses it is toxic to mammals and highly poisonous to insects. But, in low doses, it has a stimulant effect that some people find pleasant and since it is so addictive, once the habit is established, it can be very difficult to break. While nicotine itself is not the most dangerous of the many chemicals delivered into the body via cigarettes, chewing tobacco or snuff, it is present in all of them and thus is the substance tested for when determining whether someone has been using tobacco.


Nicotine, like most drugs does not remain in the body very long. "Half-life" describes the period of time it takes the body to rid itself of half of the drug present in it. Nicotine's half-life is about two hours. Two hours after imbibing, a user will have about 50 percent of the nicotine he had immediately after using. After another two hours, he will have about 25 percent. The sensitivity of the tests commonly used are capable of detecting nicotine in the body of a user up to 72 hours after use.


Nicotine is not the only substance tested for, however. Metabolites are chemicals created by the body from foreign substances. While the body rids itself of nicotine via excretion, most of the chemical is broken down by the liver and one of the by-products of this process is cotinine. Cotinine's half-life of about 20 hours allows detection via tests for several days. The specimens required for testing may be hair or saliva, but urine and blood are far more common and the testing can be performed on samples taken for the administration of various other chemical tests the proposed insured may need.


Insurance companies providing life or health coverage incur much greater expense and risk by insuring tobacco users. In order to compensate for this, they charge premiums that can be from two to three times as high as for non-users. Because of this expense, some tobacco users would gladly lie about their habit rather than pay such inflated rates. In order to ensure reports of non-use are accurate testing is a requisite for policies above a certain value (determined by the individual company's policy) and become more stringent for insurance values of greater amounts or comprehensiveness.


While it is theoretically possible that charges of insurance fraud could be levied against someone falsely reporting their status as a non-smoker, it is rather unlikely. Insurance companies ask for accurate information about tobacco use going back three to five years. However, use cannot be definitively established beyond a couple of weeks. The most likely outcome of a tobacco user's deception coming to light would be payment of claims in proportion to what the paid premium would cover. As a given degree of life coverage costs users two to three times as much as non-users, the company may pay out a benefit of one-third to one-half of the policy's stated amount. For health coverage, they may deny a claim or drop the policy (just when you need it most).

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