Governor’s plan would charge state employees who smoke extra per - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Governor’s plan would charge state employees who smoke extra per month

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Eau Claire (WQOW)- The governor has a plan to charge state workers who smoke more for health coverage.  That plan is drawing criticism Thursday and it's coming from groups that may surprise you.

"People are incentivized by getting some extra dollars in their paychecks," explains Silver Spring Human Resources Director Denise Escher.

That's the thought process behind Governor Walker's plan to charge state employees $50 more a month for their health insurance if they are a smoker.

"It is a practice that is very new and we don't have any kind of evidence that it works; whereas we do have a lot of evidence that other things do work in helping people quit smoking," points out American Lung Association Spokeswoman Dona Wininsky.

The proposal has been under fire by groups you wouldn't expect.  Smoke Free Wisconsin, the American Cancer Society, and the American Lung Association don't agree that making people pay higher premiums is going to do anything more than make coverage less affordable.  And they say there are better ways to get people to drop the habit.

"We know that increasing tobacco tax has helped because it discourages kids from starting.  We know that smoke-free air laws work because it reduces the amount people smoke.  It makes it a little bit more inconvenient for people to smoke," Wininsky says.

Silver Spring in Eau Claire already has a system in place similar to what the governor is proposing.  Employees that smoke or use tobacco pay $30 more a month for their health coverage.

"We really haven't had a lot of complaints," notes Escher.  "With new hires, we go through a benefits orientation with them and we talk about here's the rates if you are a smoker versus a non-smoker or tobacco user and they are pretty excited.  Sometimes it's kind of a kick in the pants for them to go ahead and start some smoking cessation programs."

The company says it plans to keep the program in place.

"$30 a month, is that going to break the bank?" asks Escher.  "I don't really think that's going to cause somebody to not take health insurance.  But again, I think it's important that companies or the state can look at offering incentives for their employees to quit smoking."

The state says the extra fee would bring in about $2.7 million over the next two years and that money would help offset long-term employee health care costs.  WQOW started a conversation about the governor's plan.  If you have an opinion, weigh in on our Facebook page.

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