The Herald Bulletin

May 6, 2013

ISU may charge tobacco users more for insurance

By Sue Loughlin
CNHI News Service

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Next year, Indiana State University employees who smoke or use other tobacco products could face a $1,200 per year surcharge if they have university health insurance.

Also, employees who voluntarily agree to health screenings and health risk assessments would receive a discount on their health insurance, according to recommendations proposed by a committee looking at wellness options.

It's all part of an effort to help employees become healthier and curb increases in health insurance costs. A university committee has been meeting since December to develop wellness recommendations, Diann McKee, ISU vice president of business affairs, told trustees during a seminar Friday.

The recommendations, which have gone before faculty and staff economic benefits committees, are still under review and would have to go before the board of trustees for approval, the Tribune-Star reported.

One of the goals is to limit increases in the health plan to less than 5 percent each year. ISU pays about $16 million for health care costs.

In another change, there would be one base rate for all faculty and staff regardless of salary; currently, there is a three-tier structure based on salary.

Under the proposals, ISU would provide a subsidy for faculty and staff with household incomes that are 150 percent or less of federal poverty guidelines.

ISU doesn't know how much of a discount it would provide for those who agree to health screenings until it knows what health insurance costs will be next year, she said.

The health screenings would be for such things as cholesterol, glucose and triglycerides. They also would look at blood pressure, heart rate, height and weight.

Results of the health screening and health risk assessments would not be shared with any ISU personnel, but would be retained by an independent contractual third party.

Those who get the screenings would be informed about what the results mean.

"I understand this may seem intrusive to some, but really it is probably where we are headed as a country," McKee said.

The voluntary screenings could help an employee identify a serious health concern that could be addressed with preventive measures or medication.

She also noted that ISU is the only one of the four major residential institutions in the state that does not have some sort of surcharge or rate differential for those that use tobacco products.

Under the recommendations, those who use tobacco products would pay a surcharge of $50 per pay based on 24 pay periods, or $100 per bay based on 12 pay periods. ISU also would launch a tobacco cessation reimbursement program to aide faculty and staff in their attempt to quit.

The CDC estimates that the economic costs of smoking are $3,391 per smoker per year in direct medical costs and lost productivity.

Trustee Ed Pease asked how the university would identify those who smoke versus those who don't. Some institutions ask employees to sign an affidavit indicating they do not use tobacco products, and that is what ISU would do, McKee said.

There are tests that can determine if a person uses tobacco, she said.

Health insurance base rates for 2014 will not be known until early fall 2013.

Through the proposals, "We're trying to better educate employees as to what may be going on with their own personal health," and help them get the assistance they need to improve their health, McKee said.