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Wednesday, November 12, 2014


It's that time of year again. Halloween is over, Veterans' Day has passed, and it's not yet Thanksgiving. The snow has begun to fly, making me think of a short piece of poetry I heard the comedian Nipsey Russell recite on television years ago: 

"Spring has sprung,
Fall has fell,
Winter has come,
And it's colder than usual."

The time of year I am referring to specifically, though, is what seems to be commonly known nowadays as open enrollment. That is a short way of saying that it's the time of year when we have to decide whether we wish to make any changes to our various forms of health, dental, vision, and related insurances. It also is the time of year when we learn what increases we may need to plan for in our monthly insurance premiums. If you think I am here to launch into a rant about the cost of insurance, fear not; I am not going to complain about that at this time. In fact, we were pleased and relieved that our cost went up by such a tiny amount this year. Yippee!

Trent needed to call the Benefits department to process our annual enrollment for our insurance today. We could have just skipped making the call; the packet sent out every years advises us that we can do so. Our choices from last year will automatically be used for next year. But we just can't do that around this household, because I am a worrier. I like to avoid unpleasant surprises, so we call every year to make the same choices we made the previous year. Some of you may be shaking your heads at this, and I don't mind. I'd rather make an unnecessary call and err on the side of caution. It's a good thing, really. When there are two family members with various health problems, and one of them is a transplant patient, that sort of caution makes sense. I will freely admit that I would love to feel relaxed enough to just forego the call. I really don't see myself turning into that type of person soon.

This year, though, couldn't possibly have been the year that we adopted that attitude. The employer that provides the insurance has begun a new policy for 2015. We received a letter from them a couple of months ago describing what would be coming, and I think it is the wave of the future. The company has determined that employees who use tobacco have a greater chance of having more, and more expensive, health problems than non-tobacco users. Beginning January first, all tobacco users, and any family members covered on their insurance who use tobacco, will pay a monthly premium of over fifty dollars per tobacco user. (I will say, on the company's behalf, that they are also providing help to employees and their family members who want to quit using tobacco. You'll notice I haven't used the word smoking, because the policy covers all forms of tobacco usage.) We had to actively enroll in our benefits this year in order to answer the question of whether or not either of us used any tobacco products. If we didn't take any action, we would automatically be charged the monthly premium.

Neither one of us smokes, so we wanted to make sure that we aren't charged for this. The reporting of tobacco usage is currently on the honor system, but I envisioned requests for confirmation going out to managers about whether the employees answered honestly. This certainly might happen in the future, resulting in people potentially losing their jobs because lying about something like this could be considered a code of ethics violation. 

This also makes me wonder about what lies in the future. Will employees be required to submit to some sort of examination or testing in the future to confirm their tobacco-use status? Will tobacco use have an impact on the hiring process? Let's take it a step further, shall we? How about weight, something that is a problem for me. Will there come a time when people are charged monthly because their weight is too high? Will employees be required to have a BMI within a certain range? How about alcohol consumption? Maybe I am over-thinking this. One person may say that tobacco use is a choice, but another might say that a person's weight is also a choice. Using that type of logic, all sorts of behaviors could come under scrutiny. We shall see. I'm not going to worry about it, though. I'm just going to spend my time trying to be the happiest, healthiest person I can be.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on this subject in the comments section below, or on any post containing a link that brought you here. I am curious about how others might interpret this possible trend. Do you think a tobacco-use surcharge is fair? Do you think it will lead to mandatory verification processes? Does this open the door for charges for additional habits/behaviors/conditions? Do you view this as a punitive charge, or a positive move? I am eager to hear your opinions!