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.
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