Northwest to Kick off Smoker Health Coverage Surcharge

October 20, 2005 ( - Northwest Airlines plans to begin charging some of its workers who smoke an additional fee for health insurance.

The Eagan, Minnesota.-based airline is looking for ways to tap workers for a growing share of the escalating cost of health care. Salaried workers, a sliver of the 35,000 people who work at Northwest, are to begin paying the fee January 1, according to an internal company memo, Knight Ridder Newspapers reported.

“With the redesign of our health plan, employees who utilize more health care will pay more of the cost,” Northwest told its salaried workers in the memo, signed by senior vice president Mike Becker. “As a result of the redesigned medical plan, many employees will actually see a reduction in their monthly premium contribution rate.”

Most companies still embrace options that encourage smokers to kick the habit, such as covering a portion of the cost for nicotine patches and other remedies and providing smoking-cessation classes.

Reserach has found that financial incentives motivate smokers to try to quit, whether it is a tax on cigarettes or a surcharge on their health-care premiums, Michael Scandrett, a health policy consultant with Halleland Health Consulting in Minneapolis, told the news service.

Northwest is not the only company targeting smokers. General Mills, the Golden Valley, Minn.-based food giant, charges smokers a surcharge of $20 per month for salaried employees and $10 per month for production employees.

To apply the fee, the company asks workers whether they smoke or not, a spokeswoman said.

The state of Georgia imposed a similar payment schedule after requiring that teachers and other state employees who smoke pay extra for their share of health insurance (See Peach State Slaps on $40 Employee Smoking Surcharge ).