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Employers Pay to Kick the Habit

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As wellness programs have become a staple of benefits offerings over the last decade, they have also become increasingly targeted to specific diseases or conditions. No longer just weight management or diabetes control, according to an article in today's New York Times, many companies are now offering smoking cessation programs as part of their health benefits package.

In our November issue, which hits newsstands next Tuesday, we suggest a list of questions to ask your health care carrier or broker before re-signing. Smoking cessation, though it may raise costs in the short term, could be a worthwhile investment if you have a number of smokers on staff who will likely ring up more intensive medical costs if they continue their habit. According to recent surveys, one-third of companies with at least 200 workers now offer smoking cessation programs, and the results bear out.

As the Time reports, smoking cessation programs have long-term success rates of 15 to 35 percent. "Spending as much as $900 or so to give a participant free nicotine patches and drugs to ease withdrawal, as well as phone sessions with smoking addiction counselors, can more than offset the estimated $16,000 or more in additional lifetime medical bills that a typical smoker generates." Not to mention productivity lost when employees duck out for smoke breaks.

For smaller firms it's often difficult to find the money upfront to pay for such programs--the number of small companies that offer smoking cessation is just one in 12. Even still, some companies have found the upfront cost worth it and have even promised handsome rewards for those smokers who manage to quit. In addition to the free nicotine patches, Buffalo Supply, a hospital equipment wholesaler based in Lafayette, Colorado offers $2,500 to employees who quit for 30 days and promise to stick with it. Conversely, some companies like Tribune have started penalizing smokers to the tune of $100 a month if they do not join the cessation program.

Would you offer these benefits to your employees if you could afford it? By penalizing smokers who don't join such programs, are companies like Tribune discriminating against employees by making them pay for future disability? What other niche benefits do you think would help you save on the bottom line?

Last updated: Oct 26, 2007




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