NC to Target Smokers, Obese with Higher Health Plan Costs

October 13, 2009 ( - North Carolina is set to become the second state to charge obese workers more for health insurance, the Charlotte Observer reports.

Smokers will face higher costs also, as North Carolina state employees who use tobacco are slated to pay more for health insurance next year. Tobacco users get placed in a more expensive insurance plan starting next July and, for those who qualify as obese, in July 2011, according to the news report.

North Carolina officials say they are aiming to improve state workers’ health, which saves money in future medical expenses. While officials have not yet estimated any potential savings from the obesity requirement, the higher costs for smokers could save $13 million in the 2010-2011 budget year, Anne Rogers, director of integrated health management with the N.C. State Employees Health Plan said, emphasizing that the plan’s priority is to improve health and save money in the process.

North Carolina will allow state workers with a BMI of up to 40 to keep the discount, although a BMI of 30 is considered obese by some experts, the news report explained.

Some state employees are criticizing the planned changes. The State Employees Association of North Carolina says the tobacco and obesity differentials are invasive steps that could have been avoided if the legislature had fixed the health plan. The plan covers more than 600,000 state employees, retirees and teachers at a total cost last year of $2.6 billion. Last spring, the legislature bailed out the plan with an infusion of $250 million to pay the bills after rising costs and inaccurate projections left little money for claims. Over the next two years, the state general fund will pump about $408 million into the health plan, according to the news report.

Kim Martin, a sergeant at Piedmont Correctional Institution in Salisbury, called the change “an invasion of privacy.”

Alabama was the first state to target obese workers with a higher cost for healthcare, but it and a number of other states have already targeted smokers (see AL Extends Health Care Surcharge to Crack Down on Obesity ).

Private employers for years have targeted smokers not only within their health plans, but in some cases, in their hiring policies as well (see Whirlpool Workers Lied about Smoking to Dodge Premium Hike ).