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More Companies Link Lower-Cost Health Plans to Tobacco Screening Tests

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A growing number of companies are linking employees’ eligibility for lower-cost health plans to tobacco screening test results. Hospitals are at the forefront of the trend, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

The Cleveland Clinic was one of the first hospitals to institute a tobacco screening policy for employees. Applicants who test positive for tobacco use are not considered for employment. They are referred to tobacco cessation resources, which the clinic pays for. This summer, hospitals in Michigan, Missouri and Iowa have adopted similar hiring policies, according to the newspaper. Approximately 30 states cannot institute such policies because they have “smoker protection” laws.

In Minnesota, which has a smoker protection law, employers are allowed to screen for tobacco use in order to determine how much employees should pay for health premiums. Kristyn Mullin, Director of Employee Benefits at Allina Hospitals and Clinics, said although the company’s workers who test positive for tobacco use have to pay a higher deductible, they can qualify for a lower deductible if they enroll in a smoking cessation program. “If we’re going to be out there telling our patients that they should stop smoking, we should be out there walking the walk, too,” she said.

The cost of administering a tobacco screening program and providing tobacco cessation resources for those who want to quit has deterred some employers, the article notes.

Some companies are concerned that testing employees for tobacco use will lead down a slippery slope. Paul Terry, Chief Executive Officer of StayWell Health Management, in St. Paul, MN, noted a company that demands higher health plan premiums from smokers might also do the same for people who are obese or are at risk of developing diabetes. “What about people who participate in risky sports? It’s never-ending in terms of the possibilities,” he said.

3 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of sueg
    sueg / August 19, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    I work at a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency and the cost of our health insurance premiums are increased if we smoke, are diabetic, have hypertension or are obese. The end result is that people who are at higher risk for chronic illness (like poor people and people of color) are LESS likely to be able to afford our health insurance. For our plan, if you “score” too high on the measured biomarkers (blood pressure, blood glucose, and BMI) or if you smoke or if you don’t go to the doctor every year then your health insurance premiums are up to $600 higher per year. Some of our staff have dropped coverage because they cannot afford the increased cost.

  2. Carol / August 19, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    As for the Cleveland Clinic, if they have decided to be in the business of enforcing a compulsory state religion of health fascism, then all funding they get from the taxpayers should be cut off.

    And as for those insurance plans that discriminate, it proves that their business plan is to postpone peoples’ health costs until they are the responsibility of the TAXPAYERS, in order to maximaize their own profits. Yet they are permitted to get away with posing as the self-righteous representatives of the interests of society as a whole. THIS is a moral outrage!

    And the most and immoral part of all is that smoking actually saves society money. These criminals have engaged in a Nazi-like campaign of hate propaganda to brainwash the public with outright lies.

  3. Avatar of YZ
    YZ / August 22, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    I’m curious how smoking saves society money. There are volumes of evidence about the cost of smoking on society. In regards to charging higher health insurance premiums for employees with poor health conditions, I wonder if the inverse would be more acceptable. So instead we would reward healthier employees with premium reductions.

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