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Tribune Company Rescinds $100/month Penalty For Smokers, Keeps Spousal Carve Out...

I've talked a lot in the past about the future of wellness programs, medical costs and the potential for incentives/penalties related to living a healthy lifestyle.   While this area is rife with complexities, the cost trend of medical care seems to make it inevitable that companies will eventually reward those leading healthy lifestyles.

With that said, companies naturally migrate the lowest hanging fruit when approaching any issue.  InBw_cig the area of wellness incentives/penalties, the low hanging fruit is smoking.  While family history and genetics are at play in areas like blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking is seen as a voluntary choice.  As a result, many companies are charging higher medical premiums for smokers, or refusing to employ them.

There hasn't been a highly visible company that had started penalties to smokers - until now.  LA Observed and John Hollon both recently highlighted that the Tribune Company, which started charging smokers an extra $100 per month in medical premiums on 1/1/08, reversed course in April and is refunding the charges to smokers.  Here's the Tribune memo to employees as reported from LA Observed (with a hat tip to John Hollon):

From: Tribune Communications
Sent: Tuesday, April 22, 2008 1:32 PM
Subject: Message from Gerry Spector/Tobacco Use Fee Rescinded

Since the closing of the going-private transaction last December, we’ve been reviewing policies and practices across the company, including Tribune’s healthcare benefits. While well-intentioned, we think the tobacco-use fee implemented by the previous management team is inconsistent with the new culture we’re developing---we’d rather you use your own judgment when it comes to tobacco use, not impose ours upon you.

This policy was a part of open enrollment last fall and took effect January 1, 2008. I’m pleased to tell you that we’re eliminating this fee effective April 28th.

If you successfully participated in the smoking cessation program, have quit and been reimbursed for all fees, then congratulations are in order. Quitting is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.

If you’re still being charged the fee, it will stop and Tribune will reimburse you 100 percent for the fees you have paid. This reimbursement will occur in late May.

Tribune will continue to offer the smoking cessation program free of charge to all employees and their covered dependents age 18 and older.

The spousal medical fee, implemented at the same time, will remain in place. We believe that if an employee’s spouse has access to coverage through his/her employer, that employer has the primary responsibility to bear the cost of coverage. Our obligation is to take care of our own employees, first and foremost.

If you have questions about the tobacco use fee, contact the Tribune Benefits Service Center at XXX/XXX-XXXX (sic - phone number changed for publication)

Interesting move.  Not sure it will be the norm with smoking...



I think it was an honorable move on the part of the Tribune Company, but agree that it probably won't be the "norm with smoking." Whirlpool recently fired employees for lying about their smoking habits on insurance forms. The company charged about $500 extra in annual health premiums for admitted smokers.

It's a touchy subject, but I do think it's unfair to make nonsmokers pay for others' health problems due to smoking.

HR Wench

Good for the Tribune. I applaud them for coming to their senses.

Chelsea - you could say the same about those who abuse drugs, eat too many cheeseburgers/not enough broccoli, drink alcohol while pregnant, stay in physically abusive relationships....etc.

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