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Smokers Pay Higher Premiums


By BJ Austin, KERA News

Dallas, TX – Starting in January, Dallas County employees who smoke will pay more for health insurance. KERA's BJ Austin says it's a growing trend in health coverage.

Dallas County Human Resources Director Mattye Mauldin Taylor told County Commissioners the "smoker pays" approach is in effect in nearly a dozen states, Texas included.

Taylor: For the first time in their history, the state of Texas adopted the same type of program. Charging additional monies for smoking is not a new trend anymore. It's becoming more of the standard practice.

Commissioner Cantrell: But we're not charging for smoking. We're giving a discount for not smoking.

Commissioner Price: It's the same.

Taylor: It's the same.

Price: Yeah.

Non-smokers will get an automatic 50 dollar a month discount on their insurance premiums. Smokers pay the higher monthly premium. The county expects the discount will prompt some employees to quit smoking and eventually save the County half a million dollars a year in medical costs. The Centers for Disease Control says smokers cost health insurance programs 18% more than non-smokers.

But Commissioner Mike Cantrell sees a slippery slope that might target overweight employees next.

Cantrell: Is this the first step toward a number of steps, such as weight and everything else. And that's what some people are wanting to know.

County Judge Clay Jenkins says there's a two-fold bottom line.

Jenkins: A healthier workforce, less absenteeism and ultimately save the taxpayers money.

Denton County will offer its employees a 50 dollar non-smoking discount next year, as well.

In Tarrant County, officials say they don't "penalize smokers". Collin County offers insurance premium discounts for annual physicals.

Email BJ Austin