For example, a plan for a 40-year-old non-smoker with a $35,000 income that costs $3,857 a year minus a $532 tax credit would rise to $5,254 for someone labeled a smoker, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's exchange subsidy calculator. In some cases, the rate increase might even be larger than the 50 percent increase the ACA allows because government tax credits only apply to the base premium and not the tobacco surcharge.
Not surprisingly, e-cigarette advocates are fired up about vaping being likened to smoking by insurance companies. Cynthia Cabrera, executive director of the e-cigarette industry organization Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association, said that e-cigarettes and other vaping products are a healthier lifestyle choice than combustible tobacco cigarettes, and argued that it seems inconsistent to apply the same higher insurance rates to vapers.
“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.”
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But the phenomenon of vaping is so new that experts say there’s insufficient science to determine whether e-cigarettes really are a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco products.
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Dr. Ravi Ram, the chief medical officer for Blue Shield of Northeastern New York, said that although New York has chosen to eliminate rate increases for e-smokers, he suspects most plans would place e-cigarettes on par with cigarettes in terms of their health risk.
“Until you have some long term data and some actuarial differences to health outcomes such as lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and other conditions which are significantly impacted by smoking, and likely to be impacted by e-cigarettes as well, you have to rate them the same,” he said.
So what do you think? Should vapers be treated the same as smokers by insurance companies? Or do you think e-cigarettes should be considered smoking cessation devices? Sound off in the comments section below.