09/17/09 — BOH: Possible surcharge for county workers

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BOH: Possible surcharge for county workers

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 17, 2009 1:46 PM

The Board of Health asked Health Director James Roosen Wednesday to investigate the possibility of imposing a surcharge on health insurance for county workers who smoke.

Board member Dr. Michael Gooden introduced the notion.

He said his rationale was based on "data on smokers being responsible for using up a disproportionate portion of health care dollars."

"I want the Board of Health to go on record to ask the health director to draft a proposal, and ask the county manager to have a surcharge for county workers within the county," he said.

Dr. Kim Larson, also a board member, supported the suggestion.

"Private insurance companies charge more for smokers, so the precedent has been set already," she said. "It's not unusual to have smokers pay more on their health care insurance. That's not new."

Board member Jeffrey Kornegay asked how such a proposal would be implemented.

"What we're asking the health director to do is ask the county manager to look into the feasibility of doing this," Gooden said. "We're not demanding anything other than asking him to look into it, because we are responsible for the public health. I think it's a public health issue."

Roosen said the recommendation is in line with the Health Department's strategic plan.

"That's one of our goals, was to try to reduce our expenses by getting more county employees to quit (smoking), by charging them a little for their health insurance," he said. "State law does allow county government and state government to charge employees if they smoke. So I will be happy to look into that."

Ira Thigpen, pointing out that as board chairman he could not vote, took issue with the proposal.

"Even though there's a precedent already been set, it doesn't make it right in my humble opinion," he said. "I see it as a snowball effect. ... I just have a hard time charging somebody, especially county employees, charging them more money for their health insurance."

Gooden asked Thigpen to weigh the fairness aspects.

"This mission is about protecting the public," said Dr. Larson. "We know so much more about secondhand smoke. If someone rides in a car with someone who smokes, the risk is greater. It's about economics but it's really about protecting the public."

"The people who consume the health care dollars should pay a proportionate (rate) of what they consume. They should pay their fair share. Can you give me a reason why they shouldn't?" Gooden asked Thigpen.

Roosen said he would pursue the question with county manager.