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The most insane thing I have ever heard in my life

As of yesterday I am 6 months without cigarettes.

So I call Blue Shield to see if I can get a rate reduction, on my health insurance.

Blue Shield says to me, “No, sir, whether or not you smoke has absolutely nothing to do with insurance rates”


How can that POSSIBLY be?

I mean, I’m fine that I’m not getting a rate reduction — and I was thinking the demarcation line might be more like a year than six months, at that — but how could it be POSSIBLE that smoking doesn’t have an impact on rates?

I said, “Are you telling me that if I pick up a five packs a day habit tomorrow, my rate stays exactly and precisely the same?” Yes. They should advertise that, don’t you think? “Smokers! We’ll insure you anyway for the same cost!”

Some days I wonder about what planet I live on.

I swear to god that every doctor I’ve ever seen for thirty-something years told me to stop smoking, or my health would suffer — how does insurance actuarial tables take that into account? Hell, for that matter, why does the application even ask if you smoke in the first place? I am, officially, baffled.



13 Responses to “ The most insane thing I have ever heard in my life ”

  1. Simple. US health insurance companies routinely lie to try and increase their profits.

  2. I’d call and speak to someone else, BUT…

    I investigated this for a course in college (which was a while ago so I can’t swear this is still accurate) and most insurance companies offered staggered rate reductions based on how long it’s been since you quit. It had to at least a year before they’d reduce and then at least five years until you could get what would be mostly equal to the non-smoking rate.

    FUN FACT: Insurance companies are well-invested in the tobacco industry.

  3. My insurance broker had me wait until I was nicotine free for a year (including the patch or any other aids) before buying some life insurance so it’s definitely a factor for some types or some companies.

  4. I’d suspect poor information/ poor customer service before I’d believe this information was accurate.
    Everything I’ve ever heard (and most of my family sells insurance) is that there is reduced risk (and thus reduced rates) the longer you’re a non-smoker.

  5. Agreed this may have been a mis-informed service rep. My own experience and understanding (and I am in the insurance industry, unfortunately) is that there is almost always at least a smoking surcharge applied to health insurance policies. Maybe the surcharge was never applied to your policy, thus nothing to discount? Might want to take a close look at your policy documents.

  6. Good work on hitting six months!

    I’m almost at three weeks, having quit cold turkey – it’s been a fun ride so far!

  7. Congrats to Brian and Ben! You guys are heroes! ^_^

  8. Brian: this is an instance of what’s called “community rating”, which is basically where insurance is offered at the same rate to everyone, regardless of their risk factors. Many governments throughout the world, and many US states, require it as part of their regulation of the private health insurance industry.


    Oddly, though, California *doesn’t* seem to be one of those states…but I gather that the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) will force all companies across the US to offer community rating from 2014.

    The rationale for community rating is to ensure equity of access — essentially to stop insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions or predictably poor health in the future, and/or pricing them out of the market. So it’s not a crazy idea at all…although you could argue that industry regulation should distinguish between charging higher fees for someone with a family history of diabetes, and charging higher fees for someone who deliberately engages in risky behaviour…

  9. Yeah, I’m *fairly* certain, it isn’t “community rating” for a whole host of reasons — but again, I ask why are they asking about smoking, or history of disease or any of those things in the first place, then?


  10. I’m in NV and the BCBS difference is right on the form and tables. It averages out to approx. 20% surcharge for tobacco users.

    Might want to take your biz elsewhere if it isn’t a CSR f-up.

  11. “why are they asking about smoking, or history of disease or any of those things in the first place, then?”

    Maybe for their own reinsurance — so that they know how much you’re likely to cost them, and they can insure themselves against that.

  12. Kudos to Brian Hibbs and Ben Lipman for quitting the cancer sticks! Me? Er, um, hey, there’s a guy who owes me five bucks over there, wait right there I’ll be right back. Seriously ,well done, youse two! Me, not so much.

  13. Ive sold individual and small group health insurance policies for 13 years and here in Ohio at least, tobacco use would make a difference in your rates when you initially sign up for the policy. However, the rates will NEVER go down unless you water down your plan design at your annual renewal. The rate will go UP at your renewal each year based on claims incurred and what the insurance company can glean of your current risk based on those claims. The way to have your current non-smoker status make a difference would be to newly apply with another insurance company or you could possibly pursue what’s called a “re-write” with Blue Cross: this when you basically apply for a new policy with them starting from scratch based on your current info. Though here in Ohio, they all ask for your tobacco history going back further than 6 months.

    Great job quitting Brian!

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