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More and more employers are choosing to not hire candidates who smoke, especially with Obama Care taking effect in 2014. They claim it is to save rising health care premiums. Smokers are crying fowl. To quote an old cigarette commercial aimed toward women, “You’ve come a long way baby.” When I was a kid, smoking was allowed everywhere. If you were allergic to smoke or just couldn’t stand the smell…too bad. I knew someone in the late 80s who worked for Farmers Insurance who was allergic to smoke. She had asthma and the majority of her co-workers smoked at their desks. One day she went to HR to see what they could do to accommodate her and they suggested she look for another job. Several years later — laws were passed, after studies showed that second hand smoke was hazardous to ones health, and smokers were delegated to the outdoors.
Now it’s 2013 and a change in healthcare laws will soon affect smokers and their “rights” again. They will no longer be asked to smoke outside — they just won’t get the job in the first place. Airtalk, a program on KPCC discussed the University of Pennsylvania’s decision to require potential employees to be non-smoking. Twenty-nine states, including California, have laws prohibiting discriminatory hiring based on legal activity, and as of this writing, smoking is still legal throughout the U.S. But in those who don’t, employers are free to cite being smoke-free as a condition of employment. The Airtalk guests were Dave Fotsch, Public Information Officer, Idaho Central District Health Department, and Lewis Maltby, President, National Workrights Institute. You can listen to the discussion here.
I find this discussion interesting and since I do not smoke, am a cancer survivor, volunteer in a cancer department and see first hand what damage smoking cigarettes do to one’s body, I have to admit — I am for anything that will help someone quit the habit. There are many arguments for and against smoking. I think we all know by now that smoking can cause cancer — I will not go as far to say that it definitely will because I think other factors come in to play — like other lifestyle choices. I am willing to guess that smokers do not exercise or eat healthy foods. They smoke because they like it. Some claim they are addicted but I think that’s a flimsy excuse. If they wanted to quit — they could. It’s called detox — it takes at least three to five days to get the physical addiction of nicotine out of one’s system — after that it’s called will power. I understand it’s hard, but so is fighting cancer. I’m getting off the soapbox now and getting back to the argument that refusing to hire someone because they smoke is discrimination, and if this is allowed then it opens a whole Pandora’s Box of other requirements — like obesity.
If you ask me, I don’t think health insurance is an employer’s responsibility. It should never be tied in to ones job. Even before Obama Care was discussed I saw too many patients lose their health insurance because they lost their jobs — employers are only legally required to keep an employees job open for three months. Most cancer patients are to sick to work for at least six months. What happens to a patient who loses their health insurance? They stop getting treatment — talk about your death panels.
The cost of health insurance premiums will continue to rise. Why? Because they are in the business to make money. Employees will be sharing a larger share of cost and get higher deductibles. Employers who are just now looking in to offering coverage to their employees instead of paying the penalty will probably choose the cheapest plans they can find. Its Economics 101 and employees won’t know what their insurance plan really covers until they get seriously ill. I guess it’s human nature to not read the fine print or ask what is not covered. Employers will look for any loopholes to keep their costs down, even if it’s considered by some to be discriminatory.
Those who claim that health care will suffer when the government gets involved hasn’t had a catastrophic illness. Insurance companies have always been the ones with the final say. The majority of bankruptcies are over medical bills and that’s the people who had insurance. Let’s take cancer treatments as an example –health insurance pay about 80% and if the bill is a million dollars, the patient is stuck with $250,000. Cancer is extremely expensive to treat and that cost is not far fetched. One chemo treatment is $8,000 and that is only the cost of the drug — I did not include all the other costs that go along with it, like the $200 IV bag that holds the cocktail.
Can you see why an employer wants to hire healthy people? Or at least hedge his bets on that side? The health insurance companies will charge that employer a higher premium which will be shared among employees to cover the seriously ill ones. Smoking is linked to cancer, heart disease and diabetes…all are expensive to treat or at least manage.
I learned something else that I find interesting when I researched this topic and that is — more than 36% of those living below the poverty line smoke cigarettes. Have you checked the price of a pack of Marlboro’s lately? They are not cheap. How does one afford to buy them if they are poor? If you ask me, it’s not about a lack of money — it’s a lack of money management. It’s either groceries or cigarettes. That’s a no-brainer to me.
CVS stores already require their employees to get a health screen by the end of May. There is no mention about their views on smoking, but they can tell their employees to pay a higher monthly premium — $60 — for the privilege of smoking.
I am willing to bet that the real reason Obama Care was implemented hasn’t much to do with getting people health care as it does with saving Uncle Sam some dough. The government can no longer afford to foot the bill for the uninsured, even if it’s only for the emergency room , which is about 40% more than the cost of rent, and that doesn’t include if the patient needs to be hospitalized, tests or surgery. Helping pay the costs of insurance premiums will save the government lots of dollars. Since the insured will be dealing with a private insurance company, any disputes about what is covered and what is not — is out of the government’s and health provider’s hands. Don’t like how your insurance company is treating you? Go somewhere else.
We will probably hear about more new job requirements over the next few months or years — it will take eight years for all the Obama Care laws to take effect, meanwhile, I am willing to bet that some groups will file lawsuits opposing what they consider discriminatory practices by the business world.