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Lifespan Encouraging Employee Health and Wellness with New Tobacco Use Policy

8/7/2014

• Employees who use tobacco products will incur surcharge starting in 2015

With a focus on improving employee health and reducing health care costs, Lifespan, Rhode Island’s largest health system and employer, is implementing a new tobacco use policy that will assess a surcharge to medical benefits for employees who use tobacco products. Lifespan also will make additional smoking-cessation programs available to all employees at no cost.

The new policy, which goes into effect on January 1, 2015, follows the recommendation of the American Cancer Society and Quit for Life tobacco policy that adds a surcharge to the medical benefits of those who use tobacco products and offers free and effective tobacco cessation programs.  The annual surcharge will be $600 a year.

“Each year in the U.S., there are 480,000 smoking-related deaths, making it the leading cause of preventable premature death. As a health care system, our mission is to deliver health with care and it’s something we must do for our own employees,” said Timothy J. Babineau, MD, president and chief executive officer of Lifespan.  “Our goal in adopting this new policy, as many employers have done nationwide, is to encourage employees who use tobacco products to stop and to provide them with the tobacco cessation tools and support they need to make quitting a reality.”

Implementing this policy is a continuation of the efforts Lifespan has made to help employees lead healthier lives and eliminate smoking on its campuses. In 2008, all Lifespan hospitals became smoke-free and two and a half years ago, Lifespan required that all new employees be non-smokers.  In the last few years, Lifespan has strengthened its Working Healthy program with employee financial rewards for starting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, as well as the enhancement of prevention programs and other activities such as fitness classes, health and wellness fairs, and support services.

The $600 tobacco surcharge will apply to employees who are tobacco users, as well as their covered spouse or domestic partner who uses tobacco products. A tobacco user is defined as someone who has used tobacco products within the previous three months, regardless of frequency. Tobacco products include cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff or e-cigarettes.

“Our intent is not to penalize tobacco users, rather, our focus is on motivating employees to take advantage of the vast number of resources that we have available to help kick this unsafe and costly habit,” said Howard Dulude, Lifespan’s vice president of human resources operations. “Smoking is a costly habit, just one pack of cigarettes a day can average nearly $3,000 a year, and smokers cost employers an estimated $5,816 to $7,800 a year due to increased health care costs, disability payments and time lost to work. We are making smoking cessation programs available to our employees and their adult dependents for free.”

During Lifespan’s annual benefits open enrollment period in November, employees will be required to indicate through an affidavit whether they or their covered adult dependent are tobacco users. To avoid the surcharge, employees and dependents must be tobacco free for the three months prior to November 3, 2014 or complete one of the offered tobacco cessation programs.

“This is why we are announcing this program at this time. We want to give employees and their family members an opportunity to participate in a smoking cessation program,” Dulude explained.

The Quit for Life program being offered by Lifespan includes personalized telephone counseling, educational materials, online interactive tools and free nicotine replacement products, such as nicotine patches and gum. Other cessation programs are offered through Lifespan’s Behavioral Medicine Clinical Services.