Smoking increases the risk of serious health issues. For example, the Centers for Disease Control report that smokers are two to four times more likely than nonsmokers to suffer a stroke or develop cardiovascular disease. Smoking also adversely affects reproductive health, increasing the risk of infertility, preterm delivery, low-birth rate, still births and sudden infant death syndrome, according to the CDC. Because of these statistics, many private health insurers and company-sponsored health plans offer discounts to non-smokers or require smokers to pay extra for health insurance.
Individual health insurance premiums for smokers average 14 percent more than those for non-smokers, according to eHealthInsurance.com, a private online health insurance exchange, which based these statistics on more than 224,000 major medical policies sold over its exchange. Women smokers get hit even harder, paying an average of 22 percent more than women non-smokers.
The number of employers requiring workers who smoke to pay more for health insurance doubled from 2009 to 2011 and is expected to continue to rise, according to the New York Times. At Wal-Mart, for example, these differences can total as much as $2,000 annually. While Sprint doesn't hit smokers with a surcharge, it does offer premium discounts to non-smoking employees and to smokers who enter smoking cessation programs. The state of North Carolina will fund a higher percentage of the cost of health insurance for non-smokers than for smokers.
Definition of Non-smoker
The definition of a smoker may vary depending upon the particular insurer. Typically, you qualify as a smoker if you have smoked even one cigarette or cigar in 12 months. However, some insurers also expand the definition to include any type of nicotine use, including chewing tobacco or nicotine gum, using a tobacco patch or smoking e-cigarettes.
Quitting smoking can lower your premiums as well as benefit your health. Some insurers, especially those plans offered through employers, will provide money or other support if you want to quit. For example, Sprint provides free coaching and education as well as help with costs of nicotine replacement therapy and tobacco-cessation drugs. All states provide some incentive to encourage their state government employees to kick the habit.
- ehealthinsurance,com: Smokers Pay 14% Higher Health Insurance Premiums Than Non-Smokers, eHealth Data Shows
- Spring: 2010 Non-Smoker Discounts for Medical Coverage and Life Insurance
- Health Insurance for Employees.com: State Employee Health Insurance Policies For Non-Smokers
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Smoking and Tobacco Use
- ehealth.com: Smoking Status and Body Mass Index Relative to Average Individual Health Insurance Premiums
- New York Times: Smokers Penalized
- Families.com: How Insurance Companies Define “Smoker”
Randi Hicks Rowe is a former journalist, public relations professional and executive in a Fortune 500 company, and currently a formation minister in the Episcopal Church. She has been published in Security Management, American Indian Report and Tech Republic.She has a bachelor's in communications, a master of arts in Christian education and a master of business administration.