Companies Using Tobacco Smoking Penalty and Hiring Ban Against Workers

To fight rising health care costs, companies across America are penalizing workers for a range of health conditions, including high blood pressure and obesity. Cigarette smokers and tobacco users have also been added to the list of targeted employees. In all, about 40% of American employers reward or penalize employees based on tobacco use (smoke and smokeless).

tobacco-nicotine-cigarettesIn addition, a growing number of companies are refusing to hire smokers. These employers argue that coaxing tobacco users to quit with free cessation programs or cash incentives hasn’t worked. Currently, these hiring bans against smokers are legal in 21 states. More states are considering enacting hiring bans against smokers – about 4% adopting the policy and an additional 2% planning to do so next year, according to a recent study by the National Business Group on Health and consulting firm Towers Watson.

Most firms simply ask job candidates if they smoke, but a few require candidates to take urine tests to be screened for nicotine. As part of the background check, some companies are now purchasing personal information from database marketing and broker companies. In addition, nationwide specialty consumer reporting agencies, including the Medical Information Bureau Inc., collect information on tobacco usage from its member insurance companies.

“It’s unethical,” says Ezekiel Emanuel, chair of medical ethics and health policy at UPenn’s Perelman School of Medicine. Employers’ main motivation isn’t employee health, he says, but “to get the smoker off their health bill and pass on the costs to someone else.” But proponents say employers have given other methods a fair shake and need a tougher approach. David Asch, who co-wrote the academic paper in support of the ban, says that with hiring bans, smokers face a social consequence that is potentially more painful than nicotine withdrawal.

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US News & World Report – How Risky Hobbies Can Raise Your Insurance Rates

US News and World Report LogoU.S. News and World Report discusses how risky hobbies and dangerous “lifestyle” activities that can increase life insurance rates. According to U.S. News, adventurous and thrill-seeking pastimes can cost you more than you think. Some common types of activities that life insurance companies for search for include: motorcycle riding, scuba diving, BASE jumping, hang-gliding, rock climbing, hunting, recreational boating, and international travel to “risky” locations.

Insurance companies are well aware of the groups you’re involved in, the commentary you write on Facebook, the stuff you post on Instagram. If you have a low-value insurance policy, it won’t come up, but if it’s a serious policy that could bring in big numbers, they’ll want more background on you.

Nevertheless, you must always be honest in your application. You might easily think it’s not worth the trouble to tell an insurance company about your love for mountain climbing, and it’s true that it’s probably not smart to volunteer the information. But if you’re asked and lie to an agent or on your application, you’re taking just as much of a risk as the pastime you’re engaged in.

To read the full article, see the U.S. News and World Report – Money Personal Finance website to learn how “How Risky Hobbies Can Raise Your Insurance Rates”.

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Employer Health Care Penalty – When Your Boss Makes You Pay for Being Fat

As they fight rising health-care costs and poor results from voluntary wellness programs, companies across America are penalizing workers for a range of health conditions, including high blood pressure and thick waistlines. They are also demanding that employees share personal-health information, such as body-mass index, weight and blood-sugar level, or face higher premiums or deductibles.

Corporate_Wellness_Penalty

Six in 10 employers say they plan to impose penalties in the next few years on employees who don’t take action to improve their health, according to a recent study of 800 mid- to large-size firms by human-resources consultancy Aon Hewitt. A separate study by the National Business Group on Health and Towers Watson found that the share of employers who plan to impose penalties is likely to double to 36% in 2014. (PDF file: NBGH/Aon Hewitt Report: The Employee Health Care Mindset: Views, Behaviors, and Solutions (2010)).

Current law permits companies to use health-related rewards or penalties as long as the amount doesn’t exceed 20% of the cost of the employee’s health coverage. John P. Hancock, a veteran labor and employment attorney at Butzel Long, a Detroit-based law firm, says that while companies can’t legally dock a worker’s pay for a health issue, they can tie an employee’s health-care bill to whether the worker meets or misses health goals. As long as employers offer exemptions for workers with conditions that prevent them from meeting health goals, the firms are in the clear.

For example, employees at at Michelin North America Inc. who have high blood pressure or certain size waistlines may have to pay as much as $1,000 more for health-care coverage starting next year.

Employees at Michelin will be forced to pay the penalty unless they can prove they meet the Michelin’s corporate “healthy standards” for blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides and waist size—under 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men. Employees who hit baseline requirements in three or more categories will receive up to $1,000 to reduce their annual deductibles. Those who don’t qualify must sign up for a health-coaching program in order to earn a smaller credit.

Employers may argue that tough-love measures, such as punishing workers who evade health screenings, benefit their staff and lower health-care costs. Such steps also portend a murky future in which a chronic condition, such as hypertension, could cost workers jobs or promotions—or prevent them from being hired in the first place.

Employee-rights advocates say the penalties are akin to “legal discrimination.” While companies are calling them wellness incentives, the penalties are essentially salary cuts by a different name, says Lew Maltby, president of Princeton, N.J.-based National Workrights Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group for employee rights in the workplace. “No one ever calls a bad thing what it really is,” he says. “It means millions of people are getting their pay cut for no legitimate reason.”

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Medical Identity Theft Help – How to Detect It, How to Correct It

Medical identity theft occurs when someone uses an individual’s name or other parts of the individual’s identity – such as insurance information or Social Security Number – without the victim’s knowledge or consent to obtain medical services or goods.

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Medical identity theft can also occur when someone uses the person’s identity to obtain money by falsifying claims for medical services and falsifying health records to support those claims. The essence of the crime is the use of a medical identity by a criminal and the lack of knowledge by the victim.

 

Identity theft of medical records can be especially difficult to fix. Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute, said he expected the number of identity thefts from health care providers to keep rising. Consumers who have suffered medical identity theft need help and support to fix their records.

“Things will get worse before they get better,” he said. “We see hacking as a daily event. It just seems that the ability to protect this information is not easy.” As the protections become more sophisticated, “the hackers get smarter,” he said.

If you think you may be a victim of medical identity theft,  review the following quick tips for detecting and correcting medical identity theft:

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Medical Identity Theft of Health Records Is a Big Problem

Identity theft of health records (commonly referred to as “medical identity theft”) has become big business and a growing problem. Reports of health-record identity thefts jumped 61.5 percent in 2012, federal statistics show. Nationwide, 64,150 data breaches have occurred since October 2009, including 24,429 in 2012 alone, according to the Office for Civil Rights, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Privacy Identity Theft

In a report published in December 2012, the Ponemon Institute, a privacy research firm based in Traverse City, Mich., and ID Experts, data breach consultants in Portland, Ore., estimates that identity theft of health records cost the United States more than $40 billion in 2012, affecting 1.85 million people.

The toll on individuals is high. According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. households lost about $13.3 billion because of all kinds of identity theft, including health records, in 2010, the latest statistics available. The average loss per household was about $2,200. Of the 1.8 million complaints to the Federal Trade Commission in 2011, 15 percent involved identity theft of all types.

‘Threat is constantly there’

Identity theft of medical records can be especially pernicious. In most cases, thieves use the health data to make financial mischief. More troubling are cases of people being charged for procedures and tests they did not receive and having their medical files filled with the thief’s medical history.

This so-called “medical identity theft” made up 1 percent of all identity theft complaints to the FTC in 2011. But Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit research group in San Diego, said this is the No. 1 issue the World Privacy Forum deals with, generating hundreds of calls each year from people whose medical files have been corrupted by thieves’ medical information.

“It has led to so much harm,” she said. “Even when there is no [medical] mistreatment, it has caused countless hours of people trying to remove incorrect information from their file. There are serious legal hurdles in removing information from your file even when it’s fraudulent.” That’s because once a medical file includes another person’s medical history, some hospitals argue it can’t be turned over without consent of the impostor.

Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute, said he expected the number of identity thefts from health care providers to keep rising.

“Things will get worse before they get better,” he said. “We see hacking as a daily event. It just seems that the ability to protect this information is not easy.” As the protections become more sophisticated, “the hackers get smarter,” he said.

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