Health Insurers Have Billions in Tobacco Stocks

By Deborah Franklin

Three Harvard doctors have done a little digging through the investment portfolios of several leading U.S. and British health and life insurance companies, and are crowing today about what they’ve learned.

“In case there is any doubt that insurers place profit above health, consider their investments in tobacco,” the docs write in their letter published in the June 4 New England Journal of Medicine.

An accompanying chart shows that U.S.-based Prudential Financial, which sells life insurance and long-term disability coverage, owns $264.3 million of tobacco stock. The U.K.-based Prudential has an even bigger stake in tobacco–more than $1.38 billion. And the list goes on. New York Life, MassMutual, and others.

All three physicians–J.Wesley Boyd, David Himmelstein, and Steffie Woolhandler–are long-standing advocates of a government-run health care system that covers everyone. Their letter doesn’t mince words: Although investing in tobacco while selling life or health insurance may seem self-defeating, insurance firms have figured out ways to profit from both. Insurers exclude smokers from coverage or, more commonly, charge them higher premiums. Insurers profit–and smokers lose–twice over.

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