Workers with unvaccinated spouses will pay more for insurance, health system says

Louisiana’s largest healthcare system gives employees choice as it seeks to increase coronavirus vaccinations: make sure your spouse has an injection or face more health insurance costs students.

Starting next year, Ochsner Health System employees will see an additional $ 200 per month if their spouse or household partner in the company’s health plan is not vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to a report. letter sent to affected employees last week. The supplement does not apply to beneficiary children covered by the plan.

“These fees are similar to what has been put in place for tobacco users and are in line with the benefits offered by many healthcare organizations and companies,” said Ochsner President and CEO Warner Thomas, in a statement. Thomas said the policy was not a “mandate” because spouses and non-salaried partners can opt for health insurance outside of the company’s plan.

With around 33,000 employees, Ochsner appears to be one of the first large companies in the United States to include spouses and dependent partners in a coronavirus vaccination supplement policy. With doses widely available in the United States and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine fully approved by the FDA in August, a growing number of companies are shifting their vaccine approach from carrot to stick.

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Hospital systems across the country, along with major employers such as United Airlines and Tyson Foods, are telling workers to get vaccinated or find new jobs. Other companies, such as Delta Air Lines, did not mandate the shooting but are adding health care supplements for unvaccinated employees.

Self-insured companies like Ochsner are particularly motivated to discourage potentially costly behaviors, including smoking and vaccine refusal, through insurance surcharges.

The average cost of hospitalization for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, is $ 20,000, according to a September estimate from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Over the past year, Ochsner has spent “over $ 9 million on COVID care for those covered by our health plans,” Thomas said in a statement to the Washington Post.

According to Linda Forst, professor of environmental sciences and occupational health at the University of Illinois at the Chicago School of Public Health, the mandates and incentives for vaccination have proven to be largely effective, in particularly among groups that initially had high rates of vaccine hesitancy.

“The more comprehensive the requirement, the better for everyone,” Forst said. She expects more information to come to light in the coming months, once Ochsner’s Spouse Supplement kicks in and factors like consumer confidence, employee infection rates and overall employee vaccination rates can be compared between hospitals with and without stricter policies.

Ochsner announced in August that “all of its doctors, contractors and employees” must be fully immunized by October 29, and 82 percent of the company’s employees have complied, Thomas said on a call Wednesday with journalists. Among doctors and business leaders, the rate is around 98%.

The vaccination mandate for employees and the surcharge for unvaccinated dependent spouses allow health and religious exemptions. About 300 employees – less than 1% of Ochsner’s workforce – requested one, Thomas said on the call.

But not all Ochsner employees accept the mandate. On September 20, more than 40 people filed a complaint to block it, partly arguing that it violates medical confidentiality.

Similar objections have been raised in response to President Joe Biden’s vaccination rules. Last month, Biden said all federal employees were to be vaccinated and all businesses with more than 100 employees were to be vaccinated or tested weekly.

Joel Friedman, a law professor at Tulane University who studies discrimination law and employment law, predicted that such lawsuits against private companies “will go nowhere.” Supplements are legal as long as they allow certain exemptions and are capped at a percentage of income. (Ochsner’s will withdraw up to $ 2,400 per year from an employee’s paycheque under the spousal surcharge.)

“People have been required to have vaccines for decades, and there is no right to do whatever you want in this world, free from government interference,” Friedman said. “Try driving an unlicensed car or getting on an airplane without your seat belt on and see what happens.”

He notes that while some employees may view vaccination mandates as onerous, others who do not want to work in an environment with unvaccinated colleagues can accommodate them, and that the requirements may reduce hospital liability.

Forst agreed and said patients would likely feel safer in a hospital with high vaccination rates among staff – and, in Ochsner’s case, their home bubbles as well.

“It makes sense for a healthcare company to run this; these organizations are the ones that take care of others, ”she said.

Louisiana recently had its highest infection rates since the start of the pandemic. The state averages just over 1,000 new cases per day. Just over 45% of the state’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, well below the national average, according to data tracked by The Post.

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