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S.C. insurer BlueCross Blue Shield going after tobacco users

Some tobacco users who have been lying about their smoking status to skirt higher health insurance premiums will be expected to shell out more money this fall.

A spokeswoman for BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina said the company is currently reviewing medical records to determine which patients enrolled in Affordable Care Act plans use tobacco.

If those patients aren’t already paying a higher surcharge for their tobacco use, Patti Embry-Tautenhan said BlueCross BlueShield will contact them soon and ask them to pay more by Oct. 1. The surcharge will apply to future premiums, she said. The company will not impose the fee retroactively.

“Because tobacco users must self-identify, it allows for potential abuse of the system, which ends up costing all of us,” she said. “However, our experience is that a very small percentage of our members use tobacco and do not pay the surcharge. And we are in the process of communicating with those members.”

More than one in five South Carolina adults smoke, the eighth highest smoking rate in the country.

But federal numbers also show 9 percent of Obamacare customers in this state own up to smoking, suggesting that some adults may be lying about their tobacco status.

The federal health care law allows insurers to charge higher premiums to customers who smoke.

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina and its subsidiary, BlueChoice, impose a 20 percent surcharge for tobacco users who have purchased health insurance on

South Carolina Department of Insurance Director Ray Farmer said Aetna, which also sells Obamacare plans in this state, imposes a 10 percent surcharge for tobacco use.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598.

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