It’s really not surprising that insurance companies charge higher rates for smokers. After all, smoking puts you at increased risk for cancer, heart disease, and stroke. This year, the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, has caused premiums to go even higher for smokers with insurers sometimes charging 50% more if you use tobacco products. However, once you switch to electronic cigarettes, is it fair that you should continue to pay the higher rates?
Cynthia Cabrera, executive director of the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association, said that vapers should be exempt from surcharges that apply to tobacco use. After all, ecigs do not contain tobacco and they reduce the health risks associated with smoking. “The SFATA does not agree with any policy that positions users of electronic cigarettes and other vapor products in the same category as smokers,” she said. “These products do not emit smoke and do not contain tobacco, tar, or any of the many carcinogens known to exist in combustible cigarettes.”
For many vapers, the potential surcharges are reason for pause when filling out insurance applications. Typically, consumers are asked two key questions that determine if they will have to pay the higher rates: Do you currently use tobacco products? Are you currently using any smoking cessation products? Vapers must think carefully before answering these questions.
On one hand, ecigs do not contain tobacco so technically, vapers can easily answer no to the first question. However, the second question can make things a little tricky. The FDA has not approved ecigs for smoking cessation, but many people use them in that way. So if a consumer has completely stopped using cigarettes and is only vaping, then the answer to both questions might be “No” and the surcharge would be waived. In fact, the only way the insurer will even know that the consumer uses ecigarettes is if the information is volunteered.
This loophole is opening the door for many ecig users to save thousands of dollars on their health insurance premiums, but some worry that it could be risky. After all, the insurer could later learn of ecig use and accuse the consumer of being dishonest on the application. The American Cancer Society says that there is no definitive policy that insurers have to follow when a consumer uses ecigs. “The Affordable Care Act does not specify e-cigarette use for purposes of cessation coverage or tobacco surcharge application.”
At this point, each insurance company is setting their own rules for how to handle vaping consumers. Carrie McLean, the customer care director from eHealth, said that your rate will vary depending on how you answer application questions. “If a consumer indicates they use e-cigarettes, the carriers are expecting them to be uprated just as if they are a smoker,” she said. On the other hand, McLean said that consumers are not directly asked if they use ecigs so it is pretty easy for vapers to fly under the radar and escape the surcharges during the application process.
“The problem arises because most people fill out their applications online and, as of now, most applications don’t ask specifically about e-cigarettes,” McLean said. “Consumers are left to decide on their own whether or not they consider themselves a tobacco user.” When there are thousands of dollars riding on how you define an ecig, chances are that most consumers will not classify themselves as tobacco users.
It’s a big decision to make and it can carry major financial consequences. ABC News reported that a typical 40-year-old nonsmoker with an income of $35,000 will have a premium of around $3850 per year, but a smoker with the same age and income will pay $1400 more.
Ultimately, each consumer will have to decide how to answer application questions until the FDA officially regulates ecigarettes and forces a legal definition. At that point, insurers will most likely be forced to automatically classify ecigs as tobacco products, forcing vapers to pay the higher rates.
How do you handle this sticky situation? Do you classify yourself as a tobacco user and pay the surcharge? Is it unethical to omit information about using ecigs unless directly asked?