Do I Have To Quit Smoking To Get Affordable Health Insurance?
America's love affair with smoking has been dwindling for decades. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 19% of Americans smoked one or more cigarettes in the past week -- compared to 25% in 2005 and 27% in 1994.
There are plenty of reasons why we're increasingly turned off by smoking. It's banned in most public places. It leads to fatal health problems. It's harmful to nonsmokers, children, and babies. And it's extremely costly for everyone.
Smoking costs you thousands of dollars just to keep up the habit. It costs the healthcare system thousands more when you undergo treatment for smoking-related diseases like stroke, cancer, and respiratory illness. And it costs insurance companies millions when they have to cover your pricey medical bills. In fact, smoking is such a liability for insurers that it's one of the biggest drivers of rising health insurance rates every year.
How Smoking Affects Your Health Insurance Rates
Normally, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) bans insurance companies from denying or charging more to cover someone with a pre-existing health condition. Because tobacco users are such a high-risk gamble for health insurance companies, they're excluded from this "pre-existing health condition" category.
(By the way, you're considered a tobacco user if you use cigarettes, cigars, e-cigs, pipe tobacco, hookah, snuff, or any other tobacco product more than four times a week.)
So, if you're a tobacco user, you can still get health insurance, but you'll have to pay a "tobacco surcharge" on your insurance premiums. That means you could pay higher premiums than someone with diabetes, high blood pressure, or even terminal cancer.
Will You Pay More As A Smoker?
Health insurance premiums are determined by multiple factors, including your age and how long you've been smoking. For instance, a 40 year-old male with a $30,000 income will pay $16 more each month as a smoker. An older male could pay up to 10% more. So, if you're a young smoker, you might not pay much of a smoker surcharge. But the older you get, the more you'll pay in premiums -- up to 50% more than nonsmokers.
If you want to slash your health insurance costs, your best option is to quit. Here's how you can kick the habit.
1) Going Cold Turkey
It won't cost you anything, and you can start right now. However, if you're a long-time smoker, you'll probably need more than just willpower to stave off your cravings. You'll have a better chance of quitting for good if you turn to other smoking cessation treatments.
2) Public Resources
Many states have "quitlines" that offer phone counseling. (Just call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to be redirected to your state's quitline.) Some states even offer free smoking cessation aids like nicotine patches and gum. You can also look to online resources, like the CDC's Tips From Former Smokers, for free advice and support.
You can meet with a quit coach in person, over the phone, or in a group session. A coach will help you set a quit date, recognize triggers, develop coping skills, and build a supportive group that will keep you on your goals.
When you stop smoking, your body has to relearn what it's like to live without nicotine, the addictive chemical in cigarettes. Luckily, there are medications that can relieve the pain of your nicotine withdrawal symptoms. They're called nicotine replacement therapies (NRT). They work by releasing measured doses of nicotine into your body until you can wean off nicotine completely.
NRT include patches, gum, lozenges, nasal spray, inhalers, and medications like Chantix and Wellbutrin. (Patches, gum, and lozenges are even available without a prescription.)
Should You Quit?
Only you can decide when you're ready to stop smoking. Luckily, the Affordable Care Act requires that health insurance plans give you incentives to kick the habit for good.
Under the Affordable Care Act, major medical plans must cover at least:
- 2 quit attempts per year
- 4 sessions of individual, group, and phone counseling (per quit attempt)
- 90 days of FDA-approved smoking cessation medications (per quit attempt)
Depending on the health insurance plan, you can even get discounts on tobacco cessation medications, smoking cessation programs, and other products and services.
Before you pick a plan, find out which incentives it offers to help you quit. Talk to an agent to get help comparing your coverage options!