At UT, Smokers Face Insurance Penalty
By Era Sundar
Employees in the University of Texas System choose their annual benefits package this week. For the first time, those who smoke will be charged a higher insurance premium.
When UT employees make their health insurance elections this week, they will be asked if they or their covered dependents use tobacco. Those who state they are tobacco free for at least 60 days before the plan goes into effect in September will not be charged an extra $30.
Faye Godwin, with UT’s office of employee benefits, says promoting a healthy lifestyle is the major reason for the new charge.
“The premium would actually bring in some extra dollars to the plan to help offset some of those costs – the higher costs associated with the tobacco users,” said Godwin.
The University is offering tobacco cessation programs. An employee kicks the habit for 60 days and signs a statement to that effect can get the fee waived.
UT’s new policy isn’t unique. Dallas County instituted the tobacco fee seven months ago.
“The majority of our employees supported that program and they felt that it was not unfair for smokers to pay a higher premium,” Mattye Mauldin-Taylor, Dallas County’s director of human resources.
“When the program was put into place last year I had been a lifelong smoker – had tried various ways to quit and never really could,” said Maria Arite an employee in Dallas County’s public information office. “I’ve been smoke free because of the program since January of this year.”
Mauldin-Taylor says that insurance providers and employers like Dallas County are always searching for new ways to cut costs.
The county and its insurance provider are looking into identifying obesity for increased premiums, because of the diseases associated with it. No decisions have been made.