How Smoking Impacts Your Health Insurance Policy

It’s a well-known fact that smoking causes an adverse effect on your health. You must have seen the warning message on all cigarette boxes – ‘Smoking is injurious to health’. Smoking tobacco is a root cause of 30% of all cancer deaths and causes 16 times higher risk of heart attack.

There are almost 120 million smokers in India. As per World Health Organization, India accommodates around 12% of the world’s smoking population. The number of men smoking tobacco has increased from 78 million in year 1998 to 108 million in the year 2015. Tobacco consumption is accountable for the death of 6 million people each year. Direct tobacco consumption accounts for over 5 million deaths and 0.6 million deaths are due to exposure to second-hand smoke. Considering serious public health risks, the Government has banned smoking in public places from 2nd October, 2008.

Not only your health, it also causes you to pay higher premiums for a health insurance policy, due to increased health risks and shorter life expectancy. A nonsmoker however, gets premium discounts as a reward to lead a healthy lifestyle. Being a smoker, it is advisable not to hide your smoking habit from your health insurance company, as it helps you to cover the smoking-related health issues.

There is a wide curiosity among people, how smoking impacts the health insurance and its cost. Let’s educate yourself about smoking and its impact on health insurance policy.

Smoking – What It Includes

Smoking includes inhalation of of the smoke of burning tobacco in the form of cigarettes, cigars and beedi. Whether you are an occasional smoker or frequent smoker, you will be considered as a smoker under the health insurance policy.

Smokers can buy health insurance, however an insurance company may charge extra premium or reject your application for insurance, depending on the number of cigarettes you smoke on a regular basis. A smoker may also have to go through additional health check-ups that can help an insurance company to ascertain the risk factor and then charge the premium amount accordingly.

How Smoking Affects Your Health and Insurance Premium

Smoking makes the serious impact on your health, some of them are detailed below.

Circulatory System: Smoking results in increased risk in the heartache and blood pressure. Building up of fatty acids could resulting to atherosclerosis.

Immune System: Smoking results in severe and long lasting illnesses. Smokers are more prone to develop ulcers, cancer, pneumonia, high blood pressure, bronchitis, and other viral/bacterial/fungal infections.

Respiratory System: Smoking may damage lung functions and breathlessness. It may cause damage to the air sacs of the lungs, increased chance of developing chronic bronchitis.

Oral Health: Smoking can lead to tooth loss, tooth staining, gum disease which may increase the risk of tooth decay.

Cancer: Smoking for a long time also causes cancer to various body organs.

When it comes to a health insurance policy, an insurance company considers the magnitude of illnesses and deaths caused due to smoking and that’s why, smokers need to pay higher premiums to avail health insurance cover. Typically, the insurance companies charge around 15 to 20 percent higher from a smoker policyholder. Those who smoke would need to undergo additional medical checks, before the insurer issues you the policy.

Let’s understand the difference of premium between a smoker and non-smoker individual.

Ritesh (non-smoker) at 30 years of age buys an individual health plan with Rs 5 Lacs coverage, for 1 year policy term, the chargeable annual premium amount is Rs 4,656. However, Raj (smoker) is buying an individual health plan, he is charged with an annual premium amount of Rs 7,552. An increase in premium amount is only due to the fact that Ansh lies in the smoker category of premium. We can see Raj is paying Rs 2896 extra on account of smoking.

Smoker with Existing Health Problems

If you are a frequent smoker that has caused the symptoms of the declining health condition and getting puzzled whether you can get a health insurance. The answer is yes, the only thing required is to make honest and proper disclosures.

The insurance company will then assess the risk associated with your profile and then decide on terms & conditions and the premium to be charged for providing you a health cover. The premiums charged will be higher and a waiting period will be applied for covering your pre-existing diseases. Moreover, if you are seeking an immediate coverage on your deteriorating health condition, you may go for a critical illness policy.

Conclusion:

Smoking makes an adverse impact on your health and your health insurance policy as well. An insurance company will charge you a higher premium in proportion to the risk associated in providing a health cover. An important point to note that you should disclose all relevant information regarding your health and smoking habits. In case, you are found hiding or providing fake information, the insurance company may decline in settling the claims.

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Community Needs Health Assessment

In 2012 the Internal Revenue Service mandated that all non-profit hospitals undertake a community health needs assessment (CHNA) that year and every three years thereafter. Further, these hospitals need to file a report every year thereafter detailing the progress that the community is making towards meeting the indicated needs. This type of assessment is a prime example of primary prevention strategy in population health management. Primary prevention strategies focus on preventing the occurrence of diseases or strengthen the resistance to diseases by focusing on environmental factors generally.

I believe that it is very fortunate that non-profit hospitals are carrying out this activity in their communities. By assessing the needs of the community and by working with community groups to improve the health of the community great strides can be made in improving public health, a key determinant of one’s overall health. As stated on the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Blue Shirt Blog (CHNAs and Beyond: Hospitals and Community Health Improvement), “There is growing recognition that the social determinants of health – where we live, work, and play, the food we eat, the opportunities we have to work and exercise and live in safety – drive health outcomes. Of course, there is a large role for health care to play in delivering health care services, but it is indisputable that the foundation of a healthy life lies within the community. To manage true population health – that is, the health of a community – hospitals and health systems must partner with a broad spectrum of stakeholders who share ownership for improving health in our communities.” I believe that these types of community involvement will become increasingly important as reimbursement is driven by value.

Historically, healthcare providers have managed the health of individuals and local health departments have managed the community environment to promote healthy lives. Now, with the IRS requirement, the work of the two are beginning to overlap. Added to the recent connection of the two are local coalitions and community organizations, such as religious organizations.

The community in which I live provides an excellent example of the new interconnections of various organizations to collectively improve the health of the community. In 2014 nine non-profits, including three hospitals, in Kent County, Michigan conducted a CHNA of the county to assess the strengths and weaknesses of health in the county and to assess the community’s perceptions of the pressing health needs. The assessment concluded that the key areas of focus for improving the health of the community are:

· Mental health issues

· Poor nutrition and obesity

· Substance abuse

· Violence and safety

At this time the Kent County Health Department has begun developing a strategic plan for the community to address these issues. A wide variety of community groups have begun meeting monthly to form this strategic plan. There are four work groups, one for each of the key areas of focus. I am involved in the Substance Abuse workgroup as a representative of one of my clients, Kent Intermediate School District. Other members include a substance abuse prevention coalition, a Federally qualified health center, a substance abuse treatment center and the local YMCA, among others. The local hospitals are involved in other workgroups. One of the treatment group representatives is a co-chair of our group. The health department wants to be sure that the strategic plan is community driven.

At the first meeting the health department leadership stated that the strategic plan must be community driven. This is so in order that the various agencies in the community will buy into the strategic plan and will work cooperatively to provide the most effective prevention and treatment services without overlap. The dollars spent on services will be more effective if the various agencies work to enhance each others’ work, to the extent possible.

At this time the Substance Abuse work group is examining relevant data from the 2014 CHNA survey and from other local resources. The epidemiologist at the health department is reviewing relevant data with the group so that any decisions about the goals of the strategic plan will be data driven. Using data to make decisions is one of the keystones of the group’s operating principles. All objectives in the strategic plan will be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (SMART).

Once the strategic plan is finished, the groups will continue with implementation of the plan, evaluating the outcomes of the implementation and adjusting the plan as needed in light of evaluation. As one can see, the workgroups of the CHNA are following the classic Plan-Do-Check-Act process. This process has been shown time and again in many settings-healthcare, business, manufacturing, et al-to produce excellent outcomes when properly followed.

As noted above I recommend that healthcare providers become involved with community groups to apply population level health management strategies to improve the overall health of the community. One good area of involvement is the Community Health Needs Assessment project being implemented through the local health department and non-profit hospitals.

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