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article imageOp-Ed: Obese, smokers to be charged more for employer healthcare? Yes!

By Paul Wallis     Oct 31, 2011 in Health
Sydney - You have to admire the zeal with which businesses are prepared to charge people for health conditions. Smokers and the obese are now on the Holier Than God hit list of the Cost Messiahs.
News Daily defines the arguments and the various holes in them according to Wal-Mart:
Tobacco users consume about 25 percent more healthcare services than non-tobacco users, says Greg Rossiter, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, which insures more than 1 million people, including family members. "The decisions aren't easy, but we need to balance costs and provide quality coverage."
This unparalleled level of employer generosity has already proven its real value. “Quality coverage”, for those interested, also happens to relate to the fact that medical bankruptcies are one of the most common forms of bankruptcy in the US, and that includes those having health insurance, of whom approximately 50% filing for bankruptcy were covered at the time of their medical incidents. (Figures on the link date from 2007, apparently pre-crash.)
Since tobacco users are now in the minority, and according to the CDC 1.4 million Americans die of respiratory disease every year, of whom 400,000 are smokers, the numbers are a bit shaky, to say the least. Smokers can’t possibly be using up 25% more of health care services in gross figures, because there just aren’t that many smokers any more. If anything, smokers, who couldn’t possibly be more than 30% of the adult population, would naturally be using progressively less health services over time.
Actually, on these figures, non-smokers are more likely to be using up health services, because the CDC stats seem to be proportionately about right, a ratio of 2.5 to 1. The relative numbers make up almost exactly the same ratio of the fatalities, who presumably received some form of health care, even in America.
The numbers also mean that non-smoking, as a health option, isn't being borne out very convincingly statistically. Why would the numbers for both be virtually identical? There should, in theory, be a marked difference. It's possible that the stats for the non-smokers include non-adults and not include alternative causes, but even so, 2.5 to 1? Pretty short odds, aren't they, bearing in mind more non-smokers than smokers are actually dying of these diseases?
The obese are also under the spotlight:
…And while workers mostly like to see an employer offer smoking cessation classes and weight loss programs, too few are signing up or showing signs of improvement.
So now more employers are trying a different strategy - they're replacing the carrot with a stick and raising costs for workers who can't seem to lower their cholesterol or tackle obesity.
This is an interesting switch for the corporates. According to conservative dogma, the “Nanny Society” is a bad thing, but the “Nosy Employer Society” is a good thing. Maybe so, but it’s also illegal. In some countries, even inquiring about a medical condition is an invasion of privacy. Firing people on medical grounds is also a very tricky operation, excuse the pun.
In this case sticking the sick with extra costs is apparently considered a God-given right of employers, based on “employment at will”, an American employment condition enshrined (some might say entombed) in law.
It also opens the doors for adding costs to other medical conditions like:
1. Diabetes
2. Depression
3. Allergies
4. Asthma
5. Sexually transmitted diseases (on or off company time)
This logic is basically a screw job, designed to free employers from more obligations to their staff. You have to admire the selective logic, though.
If you’re working for a corporation which is ripping off consumers and investors 24/7/365, and happen to be a smoker or have a medical condition, you’re the one getting charged for being on the premises. If you’re an alcoholic, paedophile, or mass murderer, your health benefits won’t be affected. At least you’re not a smoker or a diabetic.
The real glow in the dark prize here is that as usual it’s the poorer employees who’ll be hit hardest and everybody else will make money, quite a lot of it, in fact.
What a surprise.
The remedy: Sue on the basis of medical discrimination, and/or file a class action which will cost millions, to make sure they don’t benefit from this scam. There’s no reason why these crooks in health insurance and the ultra-stingy employers should get away with charging people for medical conditions.
Note: While researching the 400,000 smokers per year figure, I came across this pro-smoking site, Smoking Aloud, which has to put it mildly an interesting take on the subject. Apparently even the 400,000 figure is questioned by this site, although it does seem to be the general benchmark from what I've been seeing.
I don't know what to think about Smoking Aloud, and I don't know who or what is promoting it. Nor do I naturally accept information without looking for the other side of the coin. The fact is, however, that nobody but the anti smoking lobby has any voice on the subject any more, so it's well worth a look.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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