Dec 022011

Faced with steadily rising costs of medical care insurance, more and more U.S. employers are insisting that smokers pay a higher share of the premiums of their employer-sponsored insurance, according to a Towers Watson survey of 248 businesses. 

19% of companies with >1,000 employees have increased smokers' share of medical care insurance premiums, double the rate from 2 years ago, the New York Times reports.

Wal-Mart is now charging smokers up to $2,000 more per year than non-smokers in insurance premiums.

Smoking is the most obvious behavior to target, since smokers are responsible for a significantly higher share of insurance "losses"; i.e., medical care expenses. Hand-wringers at the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association warn publicly that these policies permit back-door workplace discrimination against unhealthy people. (Some employers include obesity and high cholesterol on the blacklist of behaviors resulting in higher premiums.) Currently, the practice is legal as long as wellness programs to help employees improve their behaviors are offered at work.

Reed Abelson, "The Smokers' Surcharge," New York Times, November 16, 2011.

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Employers charging smokers more for medical care insurance (NYT)