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Life insurers, enrollees now facing cannabis questions

Life Insurance and Annuities
by Mark Birdsall
Life insurers, enrollees now facing cannabis questions
Life insurers, enrollees now facing cannabis questions

Across the U.S., a large and growing number of states are starting to legally normalize marijuana use in some form or another, whether that's approving it for medicinal use, decriminalizing it, or simply making it totally legal. That may create some difficulty for both people who are enrolled in life insurance policies (or are at least considering such a move) and life insurers themselves, as those decisions may lead to altered rules about how marijuana use is to be considered.

Last year, there was a survey of some of the largest global life insurers, and the vast majority of them said that their firms already factor in marijuana use when making decisions about eligibility and the cost of coverage, according to a report from Kaiser Health News. However, only about 2 in every 7 insurers that already consider pot use said that they categorize those people as non-smokers, meaning that about 57 percent of life companies are treating pot users like smokers.

More states are legalizing some pot use, so how will life insurers react?More states are legalizing some pot use, so how will life insurers react?

It's all in the frequency
But even within that number, there is some wiggle room, the report said. For instance, one major life insurer allows people to use marijuana as often as three times per week without charging them smoker's rates for coverage. But even then, they would have to divulge that they indulge daily to be denied a policy outright. Meanwhile, a major competitor would only grant "nonsmoker" status to infrequent users, who imbibe less than once a week.

However, that only relates back to recreational use in most cases, and life insurers - among others - are still trying to figure out the best way to deal with the rising tide of medical marijuana use nationwide, the report said. That may be particularly difficult for life insurers because the drug is often prescribed to help people deal with chronic issues that could be indicative of greater risk.

A regulatory issue
Indeed, part of that consideration comes from the fact that so many states are now passing laws related to relaxing rules for pot, or could soon do so, the report said. Earlier this month, Ohio became the 25th state (plus Washington, D.C.) to legalize medical marijuana use. This comes despite the fact that as far as federal statutes are concerned, the drug is still illegal. And like the life insurance industry, those in the health coverage field likewise have some decisions to make about how to proceed given the way the legislative winds now seem to be blowing.

"The substance is still prohibited on the federal level, so health plans don't have specific questions to prompt for marijuana use among enrollees," Clare Krusing, a spokesperson for America's Health Insurance Plans, told the site.

The more life insurers can do to craft plans to deal with these eventualities, then communicate them to clients - prospective and existing - the better off both sides of the equation will be. Given the way things are going, it's probable that more states will pass at least some legalization law in the near future, and life insurers have to be prepared for whatever happens.



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