Survey: More Employers Requiring Smokers to Pay Extra For Health Insurance

A growing number of employers are requiring tobacco users to pay more for their health insurance if they do not participate in a smoking cessation program, a new national survey finds. Some employers are refusing to hire smokers, according to Forbes.

Some non-smokers are being asked to undergo testing to prove they don’t use tobacco, in order to qualify for a health insurance premium subsidy, the article notes.

“The endgame is not to penalize tobacco users but to have them quit, so they’re healthier,” says Michael Wood of Towers Watson, which conducted the survey. He noted it is one of a number of wellness programs employers are using to encourage employees to stay healthy and reduce healthcare costs.

The annual survey of large employers found 42 percent are using surcharges for tobacco users this year. That number is expected to increase to 62 percent in 2014. The average annual surcharge for smokers’ health care premiums was $533. Some surcharges are as high as $1,200, Wood noted.

In 2012, 87 percent of employers surveyed said they had tobacco cessation programs. By next year, they all expect to have them.
Employers use penalties to get workers into wellness programs because if they don’t, few workers will use them, Wood said. When no penalties are involved, as few as 5 percent of smokers will sign up for a tobacco cessation program in any one year. When significant financial penalties are involved, and the company offers a cessation program, the rate goes up to 40 percent.

It is legal to refuse to hire smokers in 21 states, according to the article. In those states, 4 percent of companies have adopted such a policy, and an additional 2 percent said they will do so next year. Hospitals are most likely to refuse to hire smokers. This year, 21 percent do not hire smokers; that is expected to rise to one-third by next year.

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