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Companies are Telling Unvaccinated Workers to Pay More for Health Insurance

(by Andrea Hsu | NPR) – As Covid cases surged over the summer, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian took action: Unvaccinated workers would have to pay an extra $200 a month for their health insurance, starting Nov. 1.

It felt less onerous than the vaccine mandate imposed on workers by rival United Airlines. But still, it was audacious.

Around 75% of Delta’s workforce had already received the Covid shots by that time. But each employee who was hospitalized with Covid had cost Delta $50,000, and Bastian noted in an August memo that none of those hospitalized in the summer surge had been fully vaccinated.

“This surcharge will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company,” he wrote.

More companies are considering fees and surcharges for unvaccinated

Now, as Covid cases climb once again, more companies are putting aside carrots and turning to sticks in an effort to protect their workers. From Utah grocery chain Harmons to Wall Street banking giant JPMorgan Chase, companies are telling their unvaccinated workers to get the shots or pay more for health insurance.

In a September survey, the Society for Human Resource Management found less than 1% of organizations had raised health insurance premiums for unvaccinated workers and 13% have considered doing so.

It was higher among large companies, where nearly 20% were considering the move.

A new fee at one employer drove up vaccination rates

One employer is trying a different tactic. Mercyhealth, which has more than 7,000 employees at hospitals and clinics in Wisconsin and Illinois, introduced what it called a “risk pool fee,” instead of higher health care premiums. Since mid-October, unvaccinated employees have had $60 deducted from their wages each month to go into this pool.

In a memo to employees, Mercyhealth compared the fee to 16-year-old drivers having to pay more for auto insurance to cover the heightened risks they present as new drivers.

Alen Brcic, Mercyhealth’s vice president of people and culture, says $60 per month is a nominal amount, even symbolic. Mercyhealth still bears most of the costs when someone misses work or is hospitalized because of Covid.

But after the policy was announced in September, the vaccination rate among the health system’s employees rose to 91% from around 70%, according to Brcic.

“We really feel that this approach is working,” Brcic says. “Truly, our goal is to encourage everyone to get vaccinated, but also ensure that people have the choice.”

A “couple of handfuls” of people quit over the policy and roughly 9% of employees are now contributing to the risk pool. Mercyhealth did provide a very small number of medical exemptions, but no religious exemptions.

Brcic is not sure how the federal vaccine mandate for health care workers, set to take effect Jan. 4, will affect the risk pool program.

“We are evaluating all options,” he says. Read Full Article >

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