Midland County Charging Tobacco-Using Employees New Premium 10/10/12
CBS 7 News
October 10, 2012
MIDLAND COUNTY, TEXAS - Smoking not only causes complicated health problems but can also take a toll on your pocketbook and that of your employer. After a shocking study, Midland County officials are looking at ways to cut down their insurance costs by the help of its employees changing their unhealthy habits. According to Midland County officials, 80 percent of Texas medical claims stem from tobacco usage and obesity. Now county leaders are encouraging their employees to quit tobacco, if they don't, they are going to have to pay up.
With recent changes in federal health insurance laws, putting more responsibility on the employer, Midland County is looking to save money.
"We pay the coverage for the employee, starting this year if that employee is a tobacco user, there will be an additional premium that they will pay over and above what the county will pay," said Mike Bradford, Midland County Judge.
Judge Mike Bradford says that fee will be about $28 per month but could increase in the future.
"This is something we must do because we get all our monies for these benefits from the taxpayer and we need to be proactive and protect that taxpayer the best we can," said Judge Bradford.
But Midland County Tax Assessor-Collector Kathy Reeves says this could be a slippery slope.
"My concern is, is this the beginning of targeting groups to increase the employees financial responsibility," said Kathy Reeves, Midland County Tax Assessor-Collector.
Reeves feels obese and alcohol drinking employees are next. She's also concerned the added cost will make the county less appealing to potential employees.
"That is the only thing that really helps us to be competitive in this market," said Reeves.
Judge Bradford says the savings will allow the county to continue providing benefits.
"To keep those benefits, you have to contain those costs," said Judge Bradford.
Something both agree on is that more needs to be done on the front end.
"Whether it is smoking or eating or drinking alcohol or anything that's self inflicted, I think if we can invest in the front end maybe there's less we have to pay at the back end," said Reeves.
Which is what Judge Bradford says the county will do by investing money in programs to help employees quit unhealthy habits.
"This is an effort to move the dollars from the back end to the front so if we're gonna spend money, lets try to help someone get healthier, rather than pay for somebody's treatment," said Judge Bradford.
Judge Bradford tells us this is not a new concept, many employers around the country have already implemented similar fees.