Tribune Co. Proposes $100 Monthly Health Care Fee for Smokers

October 23, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The Tribune Co. has announced to its 20,000 employees that a new health care plan proposal, if passed, could cost smokers $100 a month, the Baltimore Business Journal reported.

“We are doing this to promote good health among our employees and to reduce the growing health insurance costs for us and for all of our employees,” Gary Weitman, a Tribune spokesman, told the news source.

The smoking fee would be applied using the honor system, in which employees would be asked if they smoke prior to signing up for a new health insurance plan.

If the smoking fee proposal passes, the company would not be the first to penalize employees who smoke, or give them an incentive to kick the habit.Northwest Airlines unveiled plans in October 2005 to begin charging some of its workers who smoke an additional fee for health insurance as a way to get workers who live unhealthy lifestyles to foot a greater amount of the bill for rising health costs (SeeNorthwest to Kick off Smoker Health Coverage Surcharge).

An Ohio firm in December 2005 implemented a more severe requirement – quit smoking, or be fired. Scotts Miracle-Gro Company’s wellness program included a new fitness gym, access to a clinic, and diet and fitness experts, but those found to be still smoking or using other tobacco products habitually could be fired as long as they work in states where such termination is legal (See Ohio Firm Latest to Join Workplace Smoking Crackdown ).

An employee of the Ohio fertilizer company filed a lawsuit last year after he was fired for failing a nicotine test. Scotts Co.’s motion to dismiss the suit is still pending in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, according to the Baltimore Business Journal.

The Tribune Co. also floated the proposal of a $75 monthly fee for health coverage of a spouse or partner who could obtain coverage through his or her employer.

The proposal has infuriated employees of The Baltimore Sun, which is owned by the Tribune Co. The two unions representing the employees have already filed grievances, arguing that the fees would violate an agreement between the company and the unions not to raise employees’ health premiums more than 4% a year.

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