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Health plan to begin checking state workers for smoking, obesity

Posted September 17, 2009
Updated September 18, 2009

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— As part of a plan to get the health insurance program for state employees back in the black, workers who smoke or overeat could soon wind up paying more for health coverage than those who don't.

Lawmakers approved a $675 million plan in April to rescue the financially troubled State Health Plan. The bailout included a $250 million infusion of taxpayer money and higher premiums, deductibles and co-payments for workers.

The higher costs for workers, which took effect in July, average about $600 more per year.

Health Care Costs Healthy lifestyle could save state workers money

To help lower costs, the State Health Plan, which provides medical insurance for about 560,000 state workers, public school teachers and retirees, also is putting in place incentives to encourage people to stop smoking and lose weight.

Starting next July, plan members who don't smoke will become eligible to cut their out-of-pocket costs by a third. In July 2011, people whose body-mass index is within set guidelines also could save on their coverage.

Workers must agree to be randomly tested to qualify for the discounts.

"As much as we can prevent chronic disease and support members in maintaining their health and well being, the members will save money and the plan will save money," said Anne Rogers, director of integrated health management for the State Health Plan.

The plan mailed packets about the new wellness initiative to state workers this week. Smoking-cessation and weight-loss classes will be offered, and people who take part will become eligible for the discounted coverage.

"A lot of individuals try to quit smoking or manage their weight time and time again, so we want to give them the impetus. This might be what it takes," Rogers said.

Nine other states offer discounted health insurance to state employees who don't use tobacco, but Indiana is the only other state that screens employees to ensure compliance. Alabama is the only other state to offer incentives for state workers who maintain a healthy weight.

Many North Carolina state workers see the new rules as a penalty rather than an incentive plan. Several who smoke told WRAL News that they don't plan to stop, regardless of the health plan's programs.

Ardis Watkins, director of legislative affairs for the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said a program that makes employees pay more for health coverage isn't fair.

"If you want to see a successful wellness initiative, it would need to be something with a positive as an incentive, some carrot measure instead of just a stick," Watkins said. "(Health coverage) isn't a gift from the taxpayer to the state employee. This is something the state employees are earning as a benefit of their employment."

Shirley Jones, a 13-year state employee, said she tries to exercise every day to maintain a healthy weight and is enthusiastic about being able to gain financially by losing weight.

"I've lost 55 pounds with Weight Watchers. I feel better," Jones said. "I'm losing, so that's the main thing."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • theresaschwab Sep 21, 2009


  • WRALSUCKS Sep 18, 2009

    "The insurance companies call it "Health Plan". Truth is...it's a profit plan."


    That's what businesses do. You find this in some way worrisome or surprising?

  • lkanzig Sep 18, 2009

    dont i have the right to smoke if i want? why should i have to be charged more for my rights? why do people who are overweight have to pay more? maybe it is a medical condition, not because they are lazy or eat too much. this is just a sad and pathetic joke that people are being singled out and have to pay more! why do people who are not fat or smoke or drink and all that be treated different. i am ashamed to live in this sorry excuse of a state!

  • gordonbabe Sep 18, 2009

    You know... I understand about the smoking; we can control what we put in our mouths, but the obesity? BMI calculators based on what? My height and weight and a simple mathematical equation?

    This doesn't take into account bone density! How many people will be left out because of this?

  • MakoII Sep 18, 2009

    To Screen people who smoke LEGALLY and NOT screen for ILLEGAL drugs which affect health much more detrimentally than smoking makes no sense.

  • makeadiff Sep 18, 2009

    People who ignore the many warnings and overwhelming evidence against smoking, obesity, alcohol abuse, etc. and decide to tempt fate by choosing to make bad decisions, cost us all gazillions to care for them because of their selfish self indulgences. How many times have you seen an obese person riding around in a scooter and smoking at our expense? "I didn't pay a penny out of pocket for my scooter, diabetic testing supplies, organ transplant, oxygen, meds., etc. that I need because I choose to be a selfish idiot...Medicare, Medicaid, and/or my insurance paid for it all." I am personally tired of being abused by being forced to subsidize this with my hard earned tax dollars and higher premiums. I think that they should have to pay for themselves. If you are a bad driver you have to pay higher premiums.

  • MakoII Sep 18, 2009

    One Word: GATTACA

  • kevboom Sep 18, 2009

    The new state health plan rules are further fallout from a broken system where premiums are rapidly doubling/tripling and employers can't pay to insure their employees without making concession after concession. I understand why the state health plan is doing what it's doing, but I also agree with folks who say this is a slippery slope. Smokers and obese are the targets now, but whose to say pregnant women won't be next, or the elderly, who cost more to insure? What about people born in the south prone to eating fried foods?! Laugh now, but you know in a few years the state will be back looking for more people to reduce benefits on or raise premiums on. The system is broken and health care costs are out of control. I don't care if you like the Democratic health plan or not, Americans better get behind some form of partisan reform and encourage Congress to do the same. Not even the insured are safe from deep health care cuts and price increases under the current system.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Sep 18, 2009

    If you're against Obama's plan to guarantee insurance for everyone, how can you complain about these (or any) rate increases?

    If you live by the market charging whatever it can get...you must die by it. You can't have it both ways.

    I hope that some of these people who are being squeezed are against Obama's plan to revamp the system and they begin to understand what we supporters already know.

  • Adelinthe Sep 18, 2009

    Why aren't they also screening for those who are much too thin, those who chew their nails, those with depression and/or insomnia, etc.

    There are many things as well as smoking and obesity that can endanger a person's life and affect their health/medical insurance costs.

    God bless.