Smokers and Obese Workers Must Pay More for Health Coverage

By Kelsey Murray

If you are a smoker, overweight, or have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, you may end up paying more for health care as many employers are following a new trend: penalizing those employees who have unhealthy lifestyles instead of rewarding those who have healthy lifestyles.

In the past two years, the percent of American employers who impose some sort of financial penalty on their employees has doubled, making it now 19 percent. This number should double again in 2024, according to Towers Watson, a benefits consultant company.

So why are these people being penalized for their lifestyle choices? It is common knowledge that those who smoke or are obese usually have higher health risks, which in turn leads to increased health care costs. As a result, some companies are now requiring these employees to pay more for their health coverage because it makes sense that these people will end up costing the company more in health care coverage.

Currently, business are permitted to require employees who don’t meet or exceed health standards to foot the bill for as much as 20 percent of insurance costs. In 2024, the federal health care law will raise this to 20 percent. In the not-so-distant future, this could even be raised to 50 percent.

Some people say that the companies might not really have their employees best interests at heart, but instead are trying to save a few bucks. One company that is receiving such criticism is Wal-Mart Stores, which recently started charging smoking employees more for health coverage. The only way that employees can avoid the charges is by providing testimony from their doctors stating that to quit smoking would be medically detrimental to their health.

Wal-Mart is defending their actions though. A spokesman for the company says that tobacco users are generally receive 25 percent more health care than their non-user counterparts.

Wal-Mart is taking proactive measures with the recent offering of a program to help employees quit smoking.

How much can a Wal-Mart employee expect to pay per month if they smoke and want  one of the company’s more generous health care plans? These employees will end up paying, at the most, $178 per month, or more than $2,000 per year.


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