Up in smoke, insurance costs

Employers are passing on the responsibility concerning smokers health care.

After years of lobbying, lawsuits and billions of dollars in health care costs, it seems the public finally has acknowledged that smoking is bad for peopleís health. And now some employers are putting the responsibility of smokersí health care right back on their own ashy shoulders.

Corporations such as newspaper publisher Gannett and Pepsi, as well as states such as Alabama, are charging their smoking employees more for their health insurance than nonsmoking employees. And given that smokers cost a company about 25 percent more in health care than nonsmokers, a $20 to $50 surcharge on monthly insurance premiums doesnít seem so unreasonable.

Nonsmoking Americans realize they are paying for their coworkersí poor health choices, and many are happy with the new trend. To be fair, many companies offer incentive plans to quit, rescinding the extra charges if smokers successfully stop. To enforce the rules, workers caught lying on their insurance forms about whether they smoke can lose their insurance coverage altogether.

Forcing employees to take responsibility for their health on ìobviousî issues such as smoking seems to make sense. There are numerous scientific and economic studies proving that smoking is bad for health and budget. But what about other lifestyle choices? Will employees be forced to disclose and quantify their drinking habits, how much they eat fast food and their participation in ìextremeî sports that might predispose them to accidents?

Smoking is a good bad habit to pick on because it has the potential to harm those other than the direct user through secondhand smoke. But employers must be wary not to tread the slippery slope that insurance companies have put forth. In this day of risk assessment, they must strike a reasonable balance between rewarding good health choices and letting employees live their own private lives.