Saliva test forces smokers to pay more for health insurance

Want to make your employees smoking mad? Tell them they have to prove they don’t smoke.

Surprisingly, sucking on a burning clump of dried vegetable matter and inhaling the smoke deep into sensitive lung tissue is bad for human health.

Surprisingly, sucking on a burning clump of dried vegetable matter and inhaling the smoke deep into sensitive lung tissue is bad for human health.

In Arizona, some Maricopa County employees have to submit to saliva tests that test for nicotine, according to an article in the Arizona Republic. If they don’t, they pay an extra $480-a-year health insurance premium.

The test is seen as a way to cut health-care costs, which, as you probably know, have skyrocketed in recent years.

Smoking, as anyone who has read the side of a cigarette package, is bad for you. “Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy,” says one label, which seems pretty straight-forward. The Centers for Disease Control says smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., and smokers die an average of 13 years sooner.

Some Georgia hospitals, including those in Gwinnett and DeKalb, won’t hire smokers. Job applicants have to pass a blood test for nicotine. With rising healthcare costs, that may become a trend. Georgia, unlike some states, does not have a law prohibiting discrimination against smokers.

According to the Arizona Republic article, the county made the test mandatory because an statistically unbelievable number of employees claimed to be non-smokers. Despite the warning labels, the percentage of smokers has stabilized in recent years at about 20 percent.

In the article, one disgruntled employee says ”it goes against our personal liberties. Whether you smoke or not should be between you and your doctor, not you and your boss.”

She’s wrong. Because she chooses to smoke, her co-workers have been paying more for health insurance.

How much more?

Here’s some facts from the Centers for Disease Control:

* Cigarette smoking costs more than $193 billion (i.e., $97 billion in lost productivity plus $96 billion in health care expenditures) per year.

* Secondhand smoke costs more than $10 billion (i.e., health care expenditures, morbidity, and mortality) per year.

58 comments Add your comment

eastbound and down

March 18th, 2011
11:54 am

The “disgruntled employee” has a point. all she has to do is “cough up” the extra $480 a year. why should non-smokers subsidize other employees bad habits? and while she’s at it, maybe she should hit the gym.

eastbound and down

March 18th, 2011
11:55 am

oh, and first!

joe in tucker

March 18th, 2011
11:57 am

My company has required us to certify whether we smoke or not for years and if you chose to smoke then you pay a higher premium for health insurance. As a reformed smoker of 30yrs and quit for over 10 now, i say it is a great idea!!!

TML

March 18th, 2011
11:59 am

if cigarette smoking is SO bad – ban it. ban the manufacture of cigarettes just like they’ve banned asbestos from mostly every use.

but no – you can’t do that. guhment loves the tax $ it brings in too much…which tells you all you need to know. follow the money. they attack smokers today, they will attack those that eat too many steaks and cheeseburgers tomorrow because “THEY are making everyone else’s insurance too high”, too.

Skinny Smoker

March 18th, 2011
12:00 pm

Are they surcharging the fatties? Last time I checked they had at least as many preventable health issues as the smokers.

Wayne

March 18th, 2011
12:03 pm

I wish my company would do this. Not only are their healthcare costs higher, they take breaks every half hour to go stand outside for 5 minutes. Even if they’re awesome employees, they could be much better if they’d quit smoking.

If you smoke, please quit killing yourself. I don’t want to pay for your substatially more expensive healthcare through higher taxes and insurance premiums.

In the middle

March 18th, 2011
12:10 pm

As someone who does not smoke, I do not think I should pay the same for insurance as someone who does.

As someone who has a pretty bad diet, I do not think I should have to pay the same for insurance as someone who eats a very healthy diet. And if I knew that making my diet healthier would (on top of health) save me money, then it would give me another reason to try and make it better. This is just common sense and how things should be done.

Mishap

March 18th, 2011
12:12 pm

TML,
The gov’t tax money doesn’t cover the external cost of tobacco on the populace. Sure they may get $1-4/pack but that probably still doesn’t cover the healthcare of too many emphysema ridden chain smokers that either don’t have insurance or by some miracle made it to Medicare.

My company is providing “discounts” to people that submit to physicals/blood tests and preventative corrections. Those that don’t fix their health issues lose their discount and those that don’t submit lose the discount they used to get from submitting a health survey. They started surcharging smokers years ago. So yeah, they’re surcharging fatties and those too inconvenienced by the process. You had to sign up months in advance, sign up on limited times, and fast the night before.

Paxplant

March 18th, 2011
12:13 pm

While we’re at it, why don’t they do it right by tracking each individuals medical services use and surcharge individuals based on how much they cost the insurance! I know quite a few people that don’t smoke but go to the doctor at a drop of the hat and take pockets full of pills!

Skinny Vegan Sober Ex-Smoker

March 18th, 2011
12:14 pm

My blog name says it all – surcharges for everyone who does anything remotely unhealthy; but maybe intead of presenting it as a punishment or surcharge health insurance should be set high for everyone and then give discounts for doing the right things (like the security discount on your homeowners’ insurance). G’day. :)

In the middle

March 18th, 2011
12:21 pm

Skinny Vegan, I like your mindset. Since people obviously aren’t smart enough to understand the big picture here, just present it to people as a discount.

Of course, people could always just not get insurance, or get catastrophic insurance if they think they are paying too much.

BettyLou

March 18th, 2011
12:28 pm

If I miss my cigarette, my unborn baby starts to kick like he’s Pele.

jr

March 18th, 2011
12:29 pm

Skinny, expect that the fatties *will* start being charged more. It would be easy enough to require an annual physical to maintain insurance, put % bodyfat on the form, and then charge more for those with too high or too low %.

Me

March 18th, 2011
12:30 pm

I see no difference in a non-smoker paying more to assist with the premiums of smokers any more than me having to pay a higher premium to help offset the costs for those who are overweight, those that have pre-existing health issues, or those who plan on having families. I have yet to see a health insurance plan with “pregnancy coverage” as an option. As a non-smoking male weighing 175 pounds, I have no health issues related to smoking, obesity, nor pregnancy – yet I’m having to pay premiums for such. Why penalize just the smokers? Bring into the mix those who are overweight, have the potential to get pregnant, ride motorcycles, skydive, etc. I agree with @Skinny Vegan.

male w/o gynocolgist, mammograms and not pregnant

March 18th, 2011
12:32 pm

Seems to me females incur more health costs. Let’s charge them a higher rate!

mark318

March 18th, 2011
12:32 pm

Well, blacks have higher incidents of heart disease, HIV, HCV and a myriad of other addictive behaviors. That mean we can charge blacks more?

TheSmartGuy

March 18th, 2011
12:33 pm

And while we’re at it, let’s go ahead and tax people who are overweight.

Shoot why stop there, let’s tax people with type I diabetes too. Or those born with Down syndrome.

Oh to heck with it, instead of listing all these people with HIGHER rates, let’s go ahead and define the perfect person with the normal rate.

If you’re male, you have to be 5′9″ white, 180 lbs, work out 4.5 times a week, with at LEAST 30 minutes of cardio, and 20 minutes of weight training, no genetic defects, never drinks or uses tobacco.

Oh and, he has to walk around in a padded suit all day with a surgeon’s mask. Don’t want him getting hurt or sick now do we!

eastbound and down

March 18th, 2011
12:35 pm

i had a discussion with a coworker once, somewhat in jest, about insurance companies making obesity a pre-existing condition and denying insurance. as far as the motorcycling riding, etc., goes this is sometimes a condition in a employee’s (pro sports) contract. regarding taxes, i still support legalizing weed and taxing that.

Babs

March 18th, 2011
12:39 pm

What about testing for alcohol which alcohol related deaths cause harm and also result in alcohol related traffic deaths. This is Big Brother at work. While they are at it why not check the employee’s weight and if they do not fall within a certain range based on criteria, don’t hire them. How far will this go? It is a slippery slope.

Mark

March 18th, 2011
12:57 pm

I’ve been paying an extra $480/year for years! All teachers have been.

Gary

March 18th, 2011
12:57 pm

It’s about time! I ‘m thinking about a class action suit charging smokers & emission polluters with attempted murder!!!

Anna

March 18th, 2011
1:00 pm

Why should average weigh people subsidize health insurance for fat/obese people? Fat people have a lot more health issues than smokers. Also, charge more for people who drink alchol.

Not going to save any money here

March 18th, 2011
1:01 pm

Don’t think that by raising the cost of those who smoke is going to lower the cost for non-smokers here. It won’t, I would be all for it if it would. I quite smoke because of a surcharge of $80 a month and it’s the best thing I could have done for my health. And while we are on the subject of surcharges, aren’t state employees in Alabama being charged extra for being overweight? I think I read that some where……..oh yeah it was the AJC.

JJ

March 18th, 2011
1:01 pm

Why anyone would want to smoke is beyond me. It’s nasty, you don’t look cool, and you smell…..

Kate

March 18th, 2011
1:03 pm

Here’s the difference with smoking vs. any other health condition. Nobody has to smoke. Nobody. Not a single individual on earth. Any other health situation may or may not be within any given individual’s control, and sorting that out 365 days a year for 300 million+ people with changing health is unrealistic.

If you choose to make that purely optional, conscious choice to smoke, you should bear the costs that creates.

The taxes are insignificant compared to the health cost burden. Smoking isn’t banned due to both the tobacco industry lobbyists and the very (irrationally) vocal minority of people who still want to smoke.

My company offers a $600 a year discount on benefit costs if you don’t smoke. That’s a pretty good incentive.

Artie

March 18th, 2011
1:03 pm

It’s about time they started sticking it to the smokers!!!

Artie

March 18th, 2011
1:04 pm

Oh, and obese people should pay more too!!!

Old Geezer

March 18th, 2011
1:09 pm

All I know is that a woman who smokes is easier to get in the sack than a non-smoker woman. If she smokes and has one or more tattoos, then the task is made even easier. I don’t know why this is, but it is true, they usually already have a beer in their hand and a cig in their mouth, all I have to do is look for a tat on the ankle, arm or lower back and it’s like winning the lottery. Given all their risky behaviors, like sleeping with me, they should have to pay more in health insurance costs.

where will it end

March 18th, 2011
1:11 pm

What about the epidemic of obesity? Alcohol consumption? There are a myriad of thigs that are not “good for you” yet every group is not being singled out such as smokers. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander so let the pricing be decided truly fairly i.e. based on your fat %, BMI, alcohol intake, cholesterol level and while we’re at it throw your family history in there too. Afterall why should I pay more because your family has a history of heart disease and you’re choking down a Big Mac?

picky person

March 18th, 2011
1:14 pm

I really hate seeing that brown spot on a smoker’s front tooth from where they stick the cigarette butt there several times a day for years and inhale in the same place on the tooth. How can they not see that in the mirror? And don’t get me started on their breath, it’s worse than rotten garbage left out in the sun. They also usually have bad attitudes, I would too if I smelled like that all the time and got those looks from people who just happened to get a whiff of that stank even from 5 feet away.

fek

March 18th, 2011
1:16 pm

should fat people have to pay more?

where will it end

March 18th, 2011
1:18 pm

@ Kate – so alcohol consumption is not within any given individual’s control? Let’s be honest, the real difference is that the majority of America drinks beer and eats potato chips while the minority smokes.

If health care existed in its current form while Prohibition was around, drinkers would be paying more too.

Judie

March 18th, 2011
1:18 pm

How much does fat cause per year? Billions MORE than smoking. Don’t believe me? Look it up. Smokers should pay higher premiums as soon as fat people pay higher premiums. Period.

picky person

March 18th, 2011
1:26 pm

Difficult for me to say which I don’t like more, smokers or fat people. You know what’s funny? seeing a fat person have to take the stairs when the elevator is down to go outside to smoke, but if you told them someone on the street was giving away Big Macs or cigarettes they’d high tail their fat stinky asses down there like they were Flo-Jo.

Sweet son

March 18th, 2011
1:27 pm

Everyone gets so excited about tobacco users and the healthcare costs associated with it. How about a “fat boy” tax for those who are extremely overweight? We also know that obesity causes a miriad of health problems. Heart disease, diabetes, and a host of others. I did not hear any of the commentors suggesting this as a way to reduce healthcare costs.

greatidea

March 18th, 2011
1:28 pm

If you want to smoke than pay for it… If you want to be overweight and unhealthy then charge them an insurance surcharge too. Life is full of choices and consequences. It’s time for everyone to be accountable for their own choices.

For all of you who are feeling targeted by this… I’m tired of paying for all your bad choices.

picky person

March 18th, 2011
1:31 pm

How about a tax on the ugly? They aren’t making things better for anyone. They are more likely to go to the doctor because doctors are the only people who can’t get out of sitting in a tiny room being forced to talk to them, it might be the only social interaction an ugly person gets.

George

March 18th, 2011
1:39 pm

I agree with skinny smoker- make the fatties pay higher insurance rates TOO! People with healthy lifestyles (i.e. non-smokers, non-fatties) have been subsidizing people with the unhealthy lifestyles for decades.

Old Geezer's got it

March 18th, 2011
1:41 pm

He’s right. She smokes, she pokes. The rule to live by

Dreamer

March 18th, 2011
1:42 pm

@ Wayne 12:03PM comment: “If you smoke, please quit killing yourself”
Some folks may be trying to do ‘exactly’ that.
Stop judging other folks!

Skinny Smoker

March 18th, 2011
1:54 pm

If our Nanny State Government charged as much tax on a doughnut-or a biggie sized fast food meal-as they do on a pack of cigarettes, we would not have any debt in this country! Could probably do away with the income tax as well……just sayin’

dotcom

March 18th, 2011
1:55 pm

Drunk drivers cause more deaths than smoking drivers. They also die from liver disease, kidney failure and other assorted diseases related to alcohol. Where is the added health insurance costs for them and the “test” to see if they drink alcohol. Oh no, that is socially acceptable!!

usually lurking

March 18th, 2011
2:02 pm

Hmmm, how about a higher insurance rate for people who participate in recreational sports for exercise as they are more likely than the couch potatoes to experience a sports-related injury requiring surgery and/or physical therapy? Slippery slope here…

Motorcyclist

March 18th, 2011
2:07 pm

OK, maybe I’m missing something. IMHO, this is just a way for the insurance companies to stick their hand into your pockets yet again.

If you smoke, yes, it increase the risks. You are more likely to have problems sooner, that will require the insurance company to ‘cough up’ money today.
If you do not smoke, you probably (but may not) live longer. Over that extra time you will likely need treated for various other illnesses. And as you age, you may still need insurance help for heart problems, cancers, alzheimers, etc. The insurance company still has to cough up the money. And in the end, we all still die.

So, if you die sooner, you aren’t a long term drain on their checkbook. If you live longer, you become a longer term drain on their checkbook, eventually aging towards those large cost problems. But not eliminating them.

So even though I am a non-smoker, it looks to me like they just want that extra $480 a year, just because.
And of course they want to control our lives, which is repulsive to me.

Or, more likely, the insurance company wants you to live healthy now and pay them the money. Then once you age enough they drop you and expect you to use socialized medicine, which they aren’t paying into.

fundad

March 18th, 2011
2:13 pm

All health/life insurance rates should be based on statistics and actuarial tables. Period. When you buy life or health insurance, the rates are and should be based on gender, weight, age, lifestyle, city & county where you live, blood type, family health history, & pre-existing conditions. Its the only fair way to do it.

Don't Understand Why People Smoke

March 18th, 2011
2:18 pm

It’s bad for their health, the second hand smoke is bad for those around them when they are around a smoker & it’s bad for the environment. Nothing good comes from smoking. Chew gum.

Edward

March 18th, 2011
2:26 pm

If everyone quit, like they want,what would they TAX, instead of cigarettes

DW

March 18th, 2011
2:38 pm

I smoke and I will pay extra for insurance, just like I do in taxes when I buy a pack of smokes. If anyone has a problem with it, well they can kiss my @$$!! MYOFB.

gatorman770

March 18th, 2011
2:59 pm

……then to be fair there should be increases for over-weight people and alcohol users since their habits lead to bad health and higher rates for non-fat-asses and non-drinkers. At what point do we stop the taxing madness?
Hey…did anybody else notice that the slew of new proposed sales taxes increases omitted taxes on golf equipment and rounds, but includes food? What’s that all about?

Grateful wage slave

March 18th, 2011
3:40 pm

My massa is so goood to me! He only pays me for 40-hours each week, but he keeps me in line for all 168-hours a week.

James

March 18th, 2011
5:24 pm

This would be reasonable if people were required to pay a fee for being overweight, for eating Mcdonald’s more than twice a year, for having random unprotected sex, for getting stressed out and developing hypertension, etc. That way, nobody subsidizes anyone else’s bad habits.

Sailor

March 18th, 2011
6:48 pm

If they are going to put this kind of a requirement on smokers, then they need to do a complete physical exam on all employees. How about the people who have elevated sugar levels, or high levels of salt, or have had heart problems, women who may be pregnant, people who have had emotional problems or those who are overweight, etc.
I do not smoke, but this is just discrimination against smokers!

Patrick M Scott

March 18th, 2011
10:58 pm

Fortunately, my employer, a municipal government that I have worked for, hasn’t done this yet, but it is only a matter of time. I am 52, started smoking at age 12, and quit at 42. Charging Smokers extra may SEEM like a good idea, but it is a dangerous precedent. Next will come people who are overweight (I’m about 35 lbs. overweight myself), then what about people who engage in what are perceived in dangeous activities. I ride motorcycles and skydive. Both legal. Both my right. Neither nearly as dangerous as one might think, but wait and see. Once this starts, there will be no stopping it. If you think this will just affect smokers, you are naive. It will grow to include everyone, for some reason or another, eventually.

Drool

March 19th, 2011
12:00 am

Does anyone believe it’ll stop with the saliva test for nicotine? That is the first step down the slippery slope of yet another invasion of privacy. Next we’ll have saliva tests for alcohol, high saturated fat foods, STDs, anything that happens to be out of fashion or politically incorrect at the moment.

WhiteRabbit

March 23rd, 2011
1:39 pm

I don’t smoke, but my opinion is that anybody who thinks this is a good idea is a fool. It will, as many have said, create a precedent to label everyone high risk eventually. People get off on this sort of thing because it makes them feel like they are better than others, but in reality, like with so many social issues, siding with the man against your peers–even smoky-smelling ones or fat ones and so on–is being a sucker and a punk, and it will come back to bite you. Nobody is going to get a break on insurance for being spineless and/or heartless, and I’d sure rather be around smokers than suck-up rats and sheep who live to be controlled and pushed around by the big wheels who see them precisely for what they are and use them as such. How about a punk/weasel tax for bootlickers and employees who enjoy bending over not only backwards but forwards: these practices seems unhealthy to me.

Fatty

March 23rd, 2011
4:32 pm

I think they should surcharge people who play sports. They are much more likely to injure themselves than your average couch potato.

Nancy

March 23rd, 2011
9:58 pm

I wonder of all the people that think this is a great idea if any of them are in perfect health? I will really enjoy hearing them cry when they have to pay more because they are fat

Learn the Facts

March 24th, 2011
7:25 am

I hate to dispel all the “smoking is costly to everyone” myths put out there by anti-smoking groups, but every longitudinal study ever done on lifetime medical costs show that smokers incur LOWER lifetime healthcare costs than people who don’t smoke. Why because they don’t live as long and don’t incur all of the highly expensive old age related medical costs. Without smokers dying off early, social security and medicare would already be bankrupt.

If you care about your countries financial well being, encourage others to smoke. It’s in your best interest.