A Little Sicker and A Lot More Money

nurses1A hospital or health center promoting healthy lifestyles by not hiring smokers, what is the world coming to?  A recent CNN Opinion stating that barring smokers from hospital jobs was unfair was written in response to the University of Pennsylvania Health System’s announcement that it will no longer hire smokers.  Not hiring tobacco users at health institutions is nothing new.  The renowned Cleveland Clinic instituted their own tobacco-free hiring back in 2007.   Health systems and hospitals in nine other states have also stopped hiring smokers.  But according to one man’s opinion, higher health insurance costs and bad life-style choices are not reasons to stop hiring smokers.  Instead, hospitals should hire smokers and try to change their behavior by making health care workers healthier.

Let’s face it, when you go to a hospital or health care system, you are there to try to get healthier.   Having someone in a position of authority tell you how to get healthy is not a good practice when they themselves have a poor regard for their own health.

Washing your hands and face after a smoke break is not going to get rid of the smoke residue that remains on scrubs and hair after that cigarette break.   It is called third-hand smoke and it is offensive.  Those patients and family members who have breathing problems will be subjected to having a person care for them who is literally making them sick.   Walking farther away from the entrance to the building in order to smoke is not the answer to making the smoker smell better.  If you put a policy in place, everyone who makes the system run smoothly, from the front desk to the CEO, must following the same practices and procedures in order to make it fair for everyone.

Health care costs are rising and hospitals and health systems are trying to keep their costs down.   The University of Pennsylvania Health System says it now costs on average almost $3,400 per year per person extra for them to insure a smoker/tobacco user.  Is the cost smoking-surveypassed on to the smoker, which would amount to about $283 more a month taken out of their check, or does everyone pay extra to make up the difference?  As a note, the Health System has nearly 18,000 employees.  If just 10% of them smoked, the Health System would pay out over $6 million extra a year for health insurance.  Current employees who use tobacco will not be charged higher health insurance premiums if they enroll in a smoking cessation program.   Health System employees who smoke and decide to buy their own insurance will find the costs high.  Individual policies under the Affordable Care Act in 2014 will be able to charge smokers up to 50% more for their insurance.

The writer of the article also states that sports players, such as “rugby players, skiers, horseback riders,” and others who “won’t wear helmets on motorcycles and bikes… all of whom cost us money and incur higher than average health care costs – are still on the job.” And that’s true.  The “higher than average health care costs” for a person who is constantly getting injured, has a catastrophic injury, or is a smoker, is borne by everyone in the health insurance plan.  So is the cost of every uninsured person who uses the health care system.  But not every rugby player, skier or motorcycle biker get injured.  Whereas when you work in the vicinity of smoker, those forced to breathe in second- or third-hand smoke can have long-term respiratory problems associated with smoking without ever lighting up.  A smoker doesn’t just harm himself, he harms those around him too.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.   Hiring someone who smokes is like watching someone commit slow suicide a little each day.  You know you could help them if they wanted help, but they continue to pay the tobacco companies to make them sick while you continue to pay out money in health care to try to keep them healthy.  No one is going to win this one.

Click here to read the entire opinion.

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