Some employers are considering charging workers who refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine a health insurance ‘surcharge’ of up to $50 a month, according to a top employee benefits consultancy.
Wade Symons, an employee benefits attorney and partner at the New York-based consulting firm Mercer, wrote in a blog post on Thursday that a number of employers are exploring the option.
‘The rationale for adding a surcharge to health insurance contributions for unvaccinated employees is seen as similar to that for a tobacco-use surcharge,’ Symons wrote.
‘If an employee is unvaccinated and contracts a COVID-19 infection, that creates higher claims costs, which can impact the employer’s bottom line, and mean higher future contributions for other employees,’ he added.
Mercer is not revealing the names of the companies that are exploring the surcharge option, but Symons told Forbes that amount of the surcharge being discussed with these employers is similar to the $20 to $50 a month charges companies already charge workers who smoke cigarettes.
The possibility of higher insurance premiums for the unvaccinated was also recently explored in a New York Times guest essay that noted ‘Getting hospitalized with Covid-19 in the United States typically generates huge bills.’
While most insurers waived patient payments such as copays and deductibles for COVID hospitalizations last year, now that vaccines are available, many are rolling back that policy, reasoning that hospitalizations are largely preventable.
‘More than 97 percent of hospitalized patients last month were unvaccinated. Though the vaccines will not necessarily prevent you from catching the coronavirus, they are highly effective at ensuring you will have a milder case and are kept out of the hospital,’ wrote essay authors Elisabeth Rosenthal and Glenn Kramon.
‘For this reason, there’s logic behind insurers’ waiver rollback: Why should patients be kept financially unharmed from what is now a preventable hospitalization, thanks to a vaccine that the government paid for and made available for free?’ they added.
Symons, the benefits attorney, reasoned that higher insurance fees for the unvaccinated are ‘less draconian than a vaccine mandate.’
‘The surcharge approach is intended to cause employees to change behavior voluntarily,’ he wrote. ‘Employers are looking for options, but with labor shortages, vaccine mandates may remain a bridge too far.’
Although plans for insurance surcharges are still under consideration, other financial incentives have already been implemented by employers, including paid time off for those who get the vaccine.
Other employers are taking a firmer line, with Google and Facebook announcing that vaccines will be mandatory for all employees.
In an opinion issued last month, the Department of Justice said that there is no legal barrier to employers requiring vaccination, even though the vaccines available are under emergency use authorization by the FDA.
The DOJ opinion found that the law concerning emergency use authorizations ‘does not prohibit entities from imposing vaccination requirements.’
As of Monday, 166,654,374 Americans had been fully vaccinated, or 50.2 percent of the adult population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.