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When Covid cases rose in the summer, Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, took action: Unvaccinated workers would have to pay an additional $ 200 per month for their health insurance from November 1.
It felt less burdensome than rival United Airlines ‘workers’ vaccination mandate. But it was bold nonetheless.
Around 75% of Delta’s workforce had already received the Covid vaccinations by this time. But every employee hospitalized with Covid had cost Delta $ 50,000, and Bastian noted in an August memo that none of the people hospitalized that summer were fully vaccinated.
“This addition will be necessary to address the financial risk that the decision not to vaccinate poses to our company,” he wrote.
More and more companies are considering unvaccinated fees and surcharges
Now that Covid cases are on the rise again, more and more companies are putting carrots aside and turning to sticks to protect their workers. From the Utah grocery chain Harmons to Wall Street banking giant JPMorgan Chase, companies are telling their unvaccinated workers to get the syringes or pay more for health insurance.
In a September survey, the Society for Human Resource Management found that less than 1% of companies had increased health insurance premiums for unvaccinated workers and 13% had considered doing so.
It was higher for large companies, where almost 20% are considering moving.
A new fee from an employer has boosted vaccination rates
An employer tries a different tactic. Mercyhealth, which employs more than 7,000 people in hospitals and clinics in Wisconsin and Illinois, introduced what is known as a “risk pool fee” in lieu of higher health premiums. Since mid-October, unvaccinated employees have been deducted $ 60 from their wages every month to flow into this pool.
In a memo to employees, Mercyhealth compared the fee to 16-year-old drivers having to pay more for car insurance to cover the increased risks they pose as new drivers.
Alen Brcic, Vice President of People and Culture at Mercyhealth, says $ 60 a month is a nominal amount, even symbolic. Mercyhealth still pays most of the costs when someone misses work or is hospitalized because of Covid.
But after the guideline was announced in September, the vaccination rate among health care workers rose from around 70% to 91%, according to Brcic.
“We think this approach works,” says Brcic. “Really, our goal is to encourage everyone to get vaccinated, but also to make sure that people have a choice.”
A handful of people quit because of the policy and approximately 9% of employees are now contributing to the risk pool. Mercyhealth provided a very small number of medical exemptions, but not religious exemptions.
Brcic is unsure how the federal health worker vaccination mandate, due to go into effect Jan. 4, will affect the risk pool program.
“We are examining all options,” he says.
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“Wellness programs” enable companies to increase health premiums
Other employers, including Delta Air Lines, JPMorgan Chase and Harmons, appear to be increasing health premiums for unvaccinated workers as part of a so-called “wellness program”.
Federal law allows companies to bill their employees different amounts for health care as long as they do so through a healthy behavior and disease prevention program.
For example, a company may run a wellness program that encourages employees to take a certain number of steps each day, or sets goals for BMI, a measurement of body fat based on height and weight. There are also wellness programs for tobacco prevention and control.
“Your wellness program could be simple: I’ll encourage all of my staff to get vaccinated, period,” says Sabrina Corlette, founder and co-director of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University.
As part of these programs, companies can earn rewards or penalties for achieving specific goals, such as: B. Vaccinations, offer. However, they must not exceed 30% of the employee’s health insurance costs, calculated from the amount paid together by the employee and the employer. For wellness programs aimed at tobacco use, the maximum penalty increases to 50%.
“Most employers do this to have a healthier, more productive workforce … and to spend less on the total cost of health care,” says Corlette.
Wellness programs must include waivers
Federal law requires the wellness program to be “appropriately designed,” which means that there is a reasonable chance the program will improve participants’ health or prevent disease.
To ensure that wellness programs do not violate discrimination laws, companies must provide individuals who do not achieve the stated goals for medical reasons or alternative ways to meet the requirements.
As part of its policy, Utah-based grocer Harmons says its insurance premium of up to $ 200 per month applies to “unvaccinated employees who do not qualify for an exception or who have chosen not to take a series of vaccination courses.”
“Over 86% of our employees are vaccinated, and we believe that these and the other safety measures we put in place kept our employees safe during the pandemic,” a company statement said.
Delta Air Lines wouldn’t say how many of its 73,000 US-based employees are paying the $ 200 monthly premium since November 1st, 94%. “