Should Smokers Pay More for Health Insurance?

Last month the Whirlpool Corporation suspended 39 workers for smoking because they had previously enrolled in nonsmokers insurance; which is less expensive. Barbara Rose of The Chicago Tribune reports:
Whirlpool's smokers pay $500 a year more for their employer-provided health insurance -- a penalty big enough to increase the likelihood of cheating -- but how would the company find out? Internet message boards buzzed with speculation about spy cameras and company snitches.

But truth sometimes is stranger than fiction. It wasn't management surveillance or finger-pointing co-workers that outed the smokers. It was the employees themselves.

A little history is in order.

The workers' union challenged the smoker fees in 2006, citing a state law, and an arbiter ruled the company had to pay back the surcharges collected during a 28-month period through June 2006. The amount was expected to be about $1,000 per employee, according to the Evansville Courier & Press.

Last month, Whirlpool's suit to overturn the ruling was dismissed in a sealed settlement, setting the stage for rebates.

The suspended workers drew attention to their smoking when they asked for the rebates, prompting the company to check to see whether they had paid the fees. Apparently they hadn't.
Okay, I know you don’t need a longwinded explanation about why smoking is bad for you, but in Eat For Health Dr. Fuhrman offers an interesting perspective on why people smoke. Here’s an excerpt:
People with low self-esteem do not realize that they are living out a self-fulfilling prophecy. The belief that you are not worthy of attention makes it a reality. We are wired to operate in accordance with our beliefs, and it all happens beyond our awareness. A person who believes that he or she is unworthy will shy away from other people, develop habits that further lower his or her attractiveness to others, and will ultimately reinforce his or her negative beliefs and practices. In doing so, such people often lower their self-perceived social status. Status is an important factor that affects every facet of your life including the way that you eat. It has very little to do with class, economics, or education. It is a combination of what I believe about myself, what you believe about me, and—the most important part for this discussion—what I believe you believe about me. In short, it is a measure of social acceptance. Lower-status people instinctively look to higher-status people for direction, without being aware of it. Lower-status individuals constantly seek acceptance through compliant behaviors, including eating, drinking, smoking, or taking drugs.
Not to mention, smoking can actually contribute to osetoporosis—bet you didn’t know that! More from Eat For Health:
Nicotine can interfere with hormonal messages to the kidneys, inhibiting calcium reabsorption. The combination of smoking and drinking coffee or soft drinks, together with the dietary factors mentioned, makes the prevalence of osteoporosis in this country quite understandable. Dietary, health, and lifestyle components are working together to cause this drain of calcium.
Now, my knee-jerk reaction to making smokers pay more for health insurance yes they should, but where does it end? Should obese people pay more? What about the psychology scarred? This might lead us down a dangerous path of double standards.
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Comments (4) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Foodaroo - May 20, 2008 1:25 AM

My employer pays about $400+/month just to cover me. Fortunately, I don't have any problems, but sometimes I wonder why I have insurance when my insurance cannot even cover the basic necessities - a complete physical done at the doctor's office.

Unless I am under the care of a physician for something, part of my physical (the screening portion) has to be done by a NP.

If you read what it covers, it doesn't cover much. Finger pricking cholesterol & glucose tests? How about a C-Reactive Protein test? That's not covered.

So why do I have insurance? My employer is obviously paying for someone else's actions, but in return I get almost nothing back. From that prospective, I don't think it's fair.

I'm not complaining because insurance is meant to be there for those who need it. But I believe it's gotten to the point that health care system is no longer working because people are not taking responsibilities for their own health and relying on drugs to save them.

There are just too many people on life dependent drugs, ie. bp, diabetes, and cholesterols, to name a few. They don't make any effort to change their eating habits. They simply don't want to.

As a result, we are paying for it.

bobby bobob - September 8, 2008 5:57 PM

i dont really care cuz i dont work and this is just for a project for school

Jessie - June 15, 2010 1:18 PM

I think it is a way to extort money from people that are under a label. If they want to raise insurance for those who smoke what about the people that drink or are overweight should they pay more also. I thought it was our right to be all treated equal and have the right to purse happiness and enjoy liberties without persecution or penalty.

JohnK - May 21, 2011 11:18 AM

Agree Jessie. I wouldn't say extort but I would say that since insurers are always all about maximizing profits, they use any excuse to charge more or even to deny benefits.
Andit's more subtle: I was recently laid off and so I will no longer get 'cadillac' health care no questions asked. Now, I came to realize I will need private insurance. When I reviewed my health records that are kept in an electronic database, I saw that my doctor had stated "former smoker of 30 years". GEEZ! I realized that a private insurer will now be able to see this and probably charge me more for a policy. I argued with my doctor. I told him that this is information that absolutely can only harm me and force me to pay more, so it should be removed. He was adamant that he would not remove this. I told him at one point, hey I should have lied and never revealed to you that I was a smoker! Anyway consider this. Even if you do agree that current smokers should pay more, is a right to stigmatize or discriminate (yes it is discrimation) against former smokers? I think not.

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