Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield Thinks Smoking And Depression Are Basically The Same Thing

Wellbutrin is an atypical antidepressant used to treat patients with depression, but it’s also effective when used short-term to help people quit smoking. As far as Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield is concerned, then, if you’re using Wellbutrin, you’re a smoker. For people whose health insurance comes from their employers, this isn’t as much of a problem. But the individual health insurance market is a cruel, unforgiving place where smokers pay higher premiums. And so reader Elizabeth’s husband, who quit smoking more than four years ago, is slapped with the smoker’s rate because he has a prescription for Wellbutrin, which they consider an “atypical tobacco product.”

According to Anthem/BlueCross BlueShield, quitting smoking won’t help you lower your health insurance premiums, especially if you use an anti-depressant to do it.

I finally trimmed our budget enough to purchase adequate health insurance for my husband. We found a great rate through Anthem/BCBS via eHealthInsurance.com and immediately applied.

The estimate was about $89 per month and covered all the preventative care we wanted. Obviously, I expected the premium to be higher than the estimate and budgeted accordingly. I was shocked when we received the bill and saw the premium was $137 per month – over 50% more than the initial estimate.

Upon calling Anthem, we were told that my husband received a poor health grade because the phone interview notes listed him as a smoker. When we explained that my husband hasn’t had a cigarette since November 2007, the agent advised us to submit a Statement of Appeal, requesting the grade be reviewed based on my husband’s non-smoking status.

Our appeal was denied on the grounds that my husband takes Wellbutrin – a medication that Anthem considers to be an alternative tobacco product. According to the underwriter my husband contacted, the ruling that “Wellbutrin = tobacco” had come from a high level consultant and could not be appealed.

When my husband asked if he could change to a different medication, he was told that any anti-depressant would result in the same grade reduction and rate hike.

In short, Anthem/BCBS considers taking an anti-depressant an equivalent health risk to smoking cigarettes. Perhaps they think that balanced brain chemistry causes lung cancer?

That’s it! Non-smoking Wellbutrin patients are too balanced for their own good!

Here, for the record, is the exact text of that letter sent after the unsuccessful appeal:

Dear Mr. [redacted]

We have received additional information that you submitted for us to reconsider our decision regarding your application for individual health care coverage.

Although careful consideration has been given, we regret we are still unable to grant your
request. This decision was based on Other Tobacco Products such as Wellbutrin is Used for Smoking Replacement.

We appreciate your interest in our services. If you have any questions, please contact your
agent or an Underwriting representative at 1-866-282-2157 for further assistance.