A provision in the Affordable Care Act allows smokers to be charged up to 50% more for health insurance than nonsmokers, and many companies are beginning to exercise this right. Advocates argue the rate hikes will trigger smoking declines, just as higher cigarette taxes did.
In some areas of the country, companies have implemented outright hiring bans on smokers, but 29 states (Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota included) protect smokers from hiring discrimination. Despite the laws, one workforce development executive tells me that companies admit to him that they pass over smokers all the time.
There’s no legal onus on employers to implement wellness or smoking cessation programs before passing on extra insurance premiums to smokers. Smokers who want to avoid the extra fees will need to step up and take personal responsibility for changing their habits.
That said, aggressive anti-smoking policies will likely exacerbate already difficult unemployment situations (and vice versa, talent recruitment). About one in five adult Americas smoke, but that ratio is higher in the Midwest where smoking is more prevalent.
The issue of smoking cessation is closely linked to issues of workplace wellness, overwork and stress reduction. We hear that companies are very concerned about helping employees manage stress and increase resiliency right now. S0 employees who smoke as a form of stress-management create something of a conundrum for wellness leaders.
“Smoker management” policies take corporate work-life balance efforts to a grey, hazy place indeed.
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