Tenn. State Workers Will Pay More to Light Up

April 30, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Current and former Tennessee state employees who smoke or have a smoker for a spouse will have to shell out an extra $600 for workplace health coverage starting January 1, 2010.

The Tennessean reported that officials hope the $50 monthly smoker surcharge will encourage smokers to quit. Lost productivity and smoking-related health claims cost the state an estimated $3,400, the newspaper said.

State workers, teachers, and some municipal employees on the state health plan will be asked to fill out a form attesting to whether they are smokers or not. Anyone caught lying on their form would face civil and legal penalties for perjury and would have to pay up to $300 in damages to the state, the newspaper said

Meanwhile, employees who stop smoking, and stay smoke-free for six months, will be refunded the money they paid in smoking surcharges.

“We’re trying to create incentives for healthy living,” said Brian Haile, deputy director for the state’s Division of Benefits Administration, which oversees coverage for some 270,000 adults and children covered by state employee health insurance, in the news report. “Fifty dollars doesn’t begin to cover the costs (of smoking-related illnesses). It will never cover the costs. It’s been known to triple the effective quit rate if there’s an economic incentive for doing so.”

According to the newspaper, the state will offer smokers discounts on smoking cessation products such as nicotine gum and patches as of May 1. Also, workers will be allowed to take part in six-week smoking cessation seminars on state time.

Jim Tucker, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association, told the newspaper that the smoking surcharge has been controversial among the workers his group represents.

Despite the controversy, most workers agree something has to be done to reduce health-care costs before the state has to impose another double-digit insurance premium hike, as it did a decade ago.

“The health plan (cost) has almost doubled in the last five years,” said Tucker, noting that some employees think the state shouldn’t stop with a smoker’s surcharge. “It’s been very controversial, just targeting the smokers, when obesity is a much larger health problem for so many people.”