Smokers are paying far more for their habit these days than just the $10 pack of cigarettes stuffed in their coat pocket.
Companies are pumping up health insurance premiums for workers who smoke at record rates, a trend that isn’t entirely new to the U.S., but is nonetheless sparking heated debates over whether employers should be able to influence their employee’s health.
Nearly 60 per cent of respondents in a recent Thompson Reuters-NPR poll said smokers should pay more for health insurance than their nonsmoking peers. Unsurprisingly, only a third of smokers said they thought they deserved to pay more for health care.
But whether smokers like it or not, it’s happening. In the face of rising health care costs, 22 per cent more companies are planning wellness programs providing incentives for healthy behaviours and penalties for unhealthy habits (e.g. obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking), according to a recently released study by Towers Watson/National Business Group.
Walmart was the latest and largest company to roll out plans to slap employees who smoke with a penalty ranging between $260 to $2,340 on health insurance.
To soften the blow, the retailer and others like it will offer services for employees who need help kicking the habit.
Promoting healthier habits in the workplace has been on the rise among employers in the last year. In 2011, 58 per cent of companies offered workers perks such as cash, premium credit cards, or account contributions if they participated in healthy lifestyle activities. Maximum rewards for healthy habits and participating in wellness programs jumped $100 in the last year to $600.
Sure, it sort of sounds like a bribe to dangle a big cash-covered carrot in front of workers in return for improving their health, but it seems to be working.
“Those organisations that are thoughtful and nimble in assessing the post-health care reform landscape will position themselves to profit from the myriad larger opportunities that lie ahead,” the Towers Watson study said.
When it comes to penalties for stickier weight-related health issues such as obesity, it’s clear Americans aren’t all quite on the same page yet. More than 60 per cent said penalties against overweight workers were unfair, according to NPR’s poll.