By PBN Staff
By PBN Staff
(Updated, July 21, 8:20 a.m.)
PROVIDENCE – The Lifespan health system announced a new tobacco use policy on Monday under which its employees who use tobacco products will pay a $600 annual surcharge to their medical benefits.
The new policy, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, follows the recommendation of the American Cancer Society and the “Quit for Life” program that encourages employers to add a medical benefits surcharge and offer free tobacco cessation programs for employees who smoke.
“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 Dr. Timothy J. Babineau, president and CEO of Lifespan.
Implementing the policy builds on Lifespan’s previous efforts to 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.
The new $600 tobacco surcharge will apply to all Lifespan employees but will not affect the two union groups employed at Rhode Island Hospital – the United Nurses & Allied Professionals and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters – Lifespan spokeswoman Gail Carvelli said.
Lifespan estimates that about 15 percent of its 14,000 employees and employee dependents use tobacco, Carvelli said. Lifespan is the largest private employer in the state of Rhode Island.
During Lifespan’s annual benefits open enrollment period in November, employees will be required to indicate through an affidavit whether they or their covered spouses or domestic partners use tobacco products, which include cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff and e-cigarettes.
To avoid the surcharge, employees and dependents must be tobacco free for the three months prior to Nov. 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,” said Howard Dulude, Lifespan’s vice president of human resources operations. “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.”
Smokers who smoke one pack of cigarettes a day spend an average of nearly $3,000 a year on cigarettes, Dulude said, and smokers cost employers an estimated $5,816 to $7,800 each year due to increased health care costs, disability payments and time lost to work.
The Quit for Life program includes personalized telephone counseling, educational materials, online interactive tools and free nicotine replacement products, such as nicotine patches and gum. Other cessation programs will be offered through Lifespan’s Behavioral Medicine Clinical Services.
Lifespan includes Rhode Island Hospital, Hasbro Children’s Hospital, The Miriam Hospital, Bradley Hospital and Newport Hospital, in addition to Gateway Healthcare, the state’s largest provider of community behavioral health care.