It’s not just the price of cigarettes, about $6 a pack, that is expensive. The healthcare costs associated with tobacco use are off the charts.
To reduce those costs, Fort Worth is offering to help smokers quit and providing discounts on insurance premiums for nonsmokers, two strategies among several that the city hopes will improve the well-being of its employees.
“It’s obvious that healthcare in this country is no longer a benefit. It is a work effort. Every family has to work at their health benefits for themselves and for their families,” Councilman Dennis Shingleton said.
“It is not just something you stick in your wallet like your driver’s license. It is something that you need to take care of. If you don’t do that, you are shortchanging not only yourself but your family and your employer.”
The city estimates that 5 percent of its employees account for about 66 percent of healthcare costs, said Brian Dickerson, director of human resources.
Incentives are being dangled in front of smokers to help reduce those costs.
During open enrollment in 2015, employees and retirees under 65 can sign an affidavit asserting that they do not use any form of tobacco to earn a discount of $23.08 per paycheck on their premiums in 2016.
To earn the discount, smokers must complete tobacco-cessation counseling before Oct. 31, 2015.
“One of the things we are going to do is help people quit,” Dickerson said.
The health plan will cover $900 in prescription or over-the-counter medications to help people quit smoking and will reimburse employees up to $500 for treatments such as acupuncture and hypnosis.
Tobacco causes more deaths than AIDS, alcohol abuse, automobile accidents, illegal drugs, fires, homicide and suicide combined, Dickerson said.
All employees on the health plan must undergo a physical in 2015 to earn the discount. Those physicals and associated lab work will be free through the city’s partner clinic.
“The reason we want to encourage primary-care physicians is because they drive down costs with regular monitoring of their patients. They catch disease early. They catch it when there are more treatment options at a lower cost,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson estimates that 70 percent of city employees don’t have a primary-care physician.
Mayor Betsy Price said all people must “take ownership” of their health.
Those changes, combined with new pharmacy partnerships, could save the city millions a year in healthcare costs, Dickerson said.
For example, the city could save $3 million to $4 million by using a healthcare call center to help city employees with bill review, prescription analysis, cost comparison and physician referral; $1 million by using a pharmacy partnership with Wal-Mart; and $2.5 million to $3 million by using a new pharmacy benefit manager.
Employees with the basic and basic plus healthcare plans will see a 5 percent increase in premiums.
“We are saying we can offset some of these expenses. I can’t guarantee you that that will happen,” Dickerson said. “Claims are claims. But we believe we have taken significant measures in order to offset that cost.”