About 29 percent of underwriters surveyed said they classify marijuana users as nonsmokers on life insurance policies. Pictured: Abby Lindsay blows out smoke after smoking on a large joint during the 420 Rally in Denver. (Denver Post file)

How does smoking pot affect life insurance policies?

Smoking pot isn’t a deal breaker for some life insurance policies, though the number of times someone smokes per week could alter the rates

If you smoke marijuana and you’re shopping for life insurance, chances are you can find a company that won’t penalize you for your habit, but you may have to weed out several insurers to find the best policy.

Eighty percent of the 148 underwriters who were surveyed by reinsurer Munich Re at the Association of Home Office Underwriters annual conference last year said their company factors marijuana use into its decisions on how to price policies and whether to offer coverage. Yet, of those, 29 percent classify marijuana users as nonsmokers, potentially allowing them to qualify for the best nonsmoker rates.

How often recreational users smoke pot is a key question for life insurers. At Prudential, for example, people can get high as often as three times a week and still qualify for nonsmoking rates. Someone who admits to smoking four to six times per week would have to pay a bit more, while anyone who uses marijuana daily wouldn’t be offered a policy, said Thomas Farrell, vice president of life underwriting at Prudential’s individual life insurance business.

At MetLife, anyone who smokes marijuana less than once a week is considered a nonsmoker, said Meghan Lantier, a spokeswoman for the company.

For life insurers, frequent pot smoking is a red flag in the same way that frequent alcohol consumption is, said Bill Moore, vice president of underwriting and medical at Munich Re, in an interview about the survey.

“The more you have, the higher the risk is because you’re more exposed to things that could cause death,” he said. “Do they smoke and drive, have they had infractions, are they flying an airplane while using marijuana? Those are all things a carrier would look at and price those risks.”

Medical marijuana use is generally a different calculus altogether for insurers, Moore said. People who smoke pot to reduce pain or nausea associated with cancer, arthritis or AIDS, for example, will be evaluated based on the underlying disease or condition.

This week, Ohio became the 25th state, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize medical marijuana. Four states and D.C. allow recreational use. Under federal law, however, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, judged to have no medical value and a high potential for abuse.

In contrast to life insurers, health insurance companies don’t factor in marijuana use in rate-setting decisions, said Clare Krusing, a spokesperson for America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group.

“The substance is still prohibited on the federal level, so health plans don’t have specific questions to prompt for marijuana use among enrollees,” she said.

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(Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.)