Delta Will Charge Unvaccinated Employees $200 Insurance Fee | Time

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  evilgenius  •  3 weeks ago  •  12 comments

By:   Abigail Abrams (Time)

Delta Will Charge Unvaccinated Employees $200 Insurance Fee | Time
Delta Airlines says all unvaccinated employees will be charged $200 extra for their employer-sponsored health insurance. Will the plan work?

As predicted increased cases of COVID-19 are causing increases in health care costs passed on to insurance carriers, passed on to employers, passed on to employees. 


S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



A Delta Air Lines plane lands near a COVID-19 testing sign at Los Angeles International Airport on Aug. 25, 2021. Mario Tama—Getty Images By Abigail Abrams August 27, 2021 8:00 AM EDT

As the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic continues, more companies are starting to require coronavirus vaccines for their employees. But this week, Delta Air Lines chose a different tactic when it became the first major U.S. company to say it will charge more for health insurance if employees do not get vaccinated.

Some may see this as a compromise between vaccine mandates and more positive incentives, but experts say it could be complicated to execute and that there's no way to tell how effective it will be.

The move represents the tricky calculus employers are being forced to make as they try to keep employees safe and their companies running while avoiding the worker shortages hitting some industries. It also comes as vaccinated individuals around the country are blaming unvaccinated people for surging daily case numbers, resulting in increased hospitalizations, deaths, a return to mask-wearing and social-distancing measures, among other consequences.

"We've always known that vaccinations are the most effective tool to keep our people safe and healthy in the face of this global health crisis," Delta CEO Ed Bastian wrote in a memo to staff on Wednesday. "That's why we're taking additional, robust actions to increase our vaccination rate."

Starting on Nov. 1, Delta employees who have not been vaccinated will have to pay an extra $200 per month if they remain on the company's health insurance plan. Delta justified the decision with the steep cost to the company of covering employees who are hospitalized due to the virus. Every Delta employee who has been hospitalized with COVID-19 was not fully vaccinated, the company said, and these hospitalizations cost an average of $50,000.

Some experts say this doesn't come as a surprise. A recent analysis from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that COVID-19 hospitalizations involving unvaccinated patients in June and July cost the U.S. health system a total of $2.3 billion. Hospitalizations have increased this month, which means the cost is likely to continue rising.

"The cost impact is definitely a factor in employers and plans trying to encourage more people to get vaccinated through various mechanisms," says Krutika Amin, associate director of KFF's program on the Affordable Care Act and co-author of the analysis.

Many parts of the corporate world have been considering—and implementing—various methods for getting people vaccinated in recent weeks. The National Football League said in July that teams with COVID-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated players will have to forfeit any games that can't be rescheduled during the conference's regular season. Major employers including Disney, Google, Walmart and Goldman Sachs have said they will require staffers to be vaccinated before returning to their offices. Some colleges and universities are charging unvaccinated students for regular coronavirus testing. And now that the FDA has fully approved the Pfizer vaccine, the Biden Administration has said all nursing homes that receive federal funding must mandate vaccines for their workers.

Generally, employers can legally require that their employees be vaccinated as long as they provide accommodations for those who cannot get a vaccine due to a disability or sincerely held religious beliefs. ​​About 14% of U.S. employers now require or plan to require their staff returning to worksites to be vaccinated, according to a recent survey from Mercer, a corporate benefits consulting firm. This is a significant increase from the 3% of employers who were doing so in a May survey.

But Bastian, Delta's CEO, told CNN this week he didn't think a vaccine mandate fit with his company's culture. At this point, 75% of the company's staff is vaccinated, he said, and more than 80% of its pilots and flight attendants are vaccinated. "Every company has to make its own decision for its culture, its people, what works according to its values," he said. "I think these added voluntary steps, short of mandating a vaccine, are going to get us as close to 100% as we can."

Delta employees who do not get vaccinated will also face other restrictions. They must immediately start wearing masks in all indoor settings, and they will have to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing starting Sept. 12. By the end of September, unvaccinated employees will stop receiving pay protection if they have to miss work due to testing positive for the virus.

The insurance charge is more complicated than a straight mandate. Under federal law, insurers and employers cannot charge people more for pre-existing health conditions. But an exception in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) allows employers to use incentives as part of a workplace wellness program, and that's how the coronavirus vaccine charges will be set up.

However, some health care experts note that these kinds of premium incentives do not always work. The Affordable Care Act allows insurers to charge people more for smoking tobacco, and research has shown that tobacco-related surcharges do not lead people to stop smoking but do lead them to give up insurance coverage. Other studies have also shown little evidence for weight loss incentives and for workplace wellness programs more broadly.

"I am very sympathetic to the complaints that those of us who are vaccinated can't get back to our normal lives because of this group of people who are unvaccinated, and they're going to cost the health system all this money," says Sabrina Corlette, co-director of the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy's Center on Health Insurance Reforms. "But when the incentive is tied to the premium that somebody pays for their health insurance coverage, there's no evidence that that particular incentive works."

The insurance charges are also likely to have the biggest impact on low-income people who may already be struggling to afford their health insurance premiums, Corlette says. Not having health insurance often deters Americans from seeking health care, and this could pose further problems at a time when politicians and public health officials are urging people to consult their own primary care doctors if they have questions about the vaccines.

"Do we really want to price people out of insurance coverage that would give them access to a primary care provider who might be somebody that they trust and will listen to, and will help them understand the benefits of getting vaccinated?" Corlette asks.

But Scott Ratzan, an expert in health communication at the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy, says that while physicians are among the most trusted sources of information, he believes the added cost of an insurance surcharge might "wake up" people who have so far avoided getting vaccinated.

"I think it's a good thing that we start to remind people there's a consequence for, frankly, bad decisions when it comes to not getting vaccinated. And these don't only have consequences on themselves, they have consequences on all of society," Ratzan says.

He serves as executive director of Business Partners to CONVINCE, a global group of employers encouraging COVID-19 vaccination, and says he expects more companies to take similar steps soon. In some cases, firms may decide to implement extra insurance charges for unvaccinated employees if they believe their employees' unions will not accept a vaccine mandate. For example, the Air Line Pilots Association's Delta Master Executive Council, which represents 14,000 pilots at Delta, has already expressed concern about the company's new policy. "The Delta MEC has consistently advocated to maintain the right of each individual pilot to consult with his or her medical provider regarding COVID-19 vaccinations or booster doses," the union said in a statement. "While the Delta MEC respects Delta Air Line's efforts to mitigate the impact of breakthrough COVID-19 variant infections, it needs to bargain with the Delta MEC over any employer-mandated vaccination for pilots."

And while such insurance charges are legal, some see the move as a slippery slope. Corlette would prefer companies mandate vaccination over tying the decision to health costs.

"This is something that we fought long and hard about with the Affordable Care Act. Your health status or whether or not you sit on the couch all day and watch Netflix or jog every day—that shouldn't be a factor in what a health insurance company can charge you as a premium," she says. "It goes back to this kind of very fundamental question of, is access to health care a fundamental right, or is it a privilege?"


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evilgenius
Professor Guide
1  seeder  evilgenius    3 weeks ago

More of this will follow until OR if we can ever get ahead of this global pandemic.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
1.1  Kavika   replied to  evilgenius @1    3 weeks ago

Good but I would rather see what UAL did and that was that all employees must be vaccinated.

 
 
 
evilgenius
Professor Guide
1.1.1  seeder  evilgenius  replied to  Kavika @1.1    3 weeks ago

Yeah... I get it. They do have a 70 to 80 percent vax rating now. I think they feared some of those still unvaxed might quit? Idk...

 
 
 
Jack_TX
Junior Quiet
2  Jack_TX    3 weeks ago
This is something that we fought long and hard about with the Affordable Care Act. Your health status or whether or not you sit on the couch all day and watch Netflix or jog every day—that shouldn't be a factor in what a health insurance company can charge you as a premium," she says. "It goes back to this kind of very fundamental question of, is access to health care a fundamental right, or is it a privilege?

I was wondering how long before somebody brought up this point.

This would seem to undo part of the ACA that Democrats fought very hard for.

 
 
 
evilgenius
Professor Guide
2.1  seeder  evilgenius  replied to  Jack_TX @2    3 weeks ago
This would seem to undo part of the ACA that Democrats fought very hard for.

And that would be a bit more complicated than the 2 or 3 sentences used in the article and may also imply doing away with HIPPA as well. In my personal opinion this whole COVID mess brings us closer to a single payer system than away from it, but we'll see. Any of this is still much further down the road than I care to speculate about.

 
 
 
Jack_TX
Junior Quiet
2.1.1  Jack_TX  replied to  evilgenius @2.1    3 weeks ago
And that would be a bit more complicated than the 2 or 3 sentences used in the article and may also imply doing away with HIPPA as well. In my personal opinion this whole COVID mess brings us closer to a single payer system than away from it, but we'll see. Any of this is still much further down the road than I care to speculate about.

It will take a lot more than this to get that far.  Delta's practice may violate HIPAA, but we'll have to see how the court battles shake out.

It's not moving us anywhere near single-payer, which is simply a raging pipe dream of the far left.

The ACA question is interesting because the law says insurers cannot discriminate based on pre-existing health conditions.  But there are dozens of loopholes for large-employer, self-funded plans, so I'm not sure if those restrictions will apply.

 
 
 
Snuffy
Junior Quiet
2.2  Snuffy  replied to  Jack_TX @2    3 weeks ago

As I read the article, it's not an insurance company charging someone more for the premium.  It's the employer forcing the employee portion of the premium higher.  

Like I said in #3 below, it's more common for employers to offer incentives to reduce the employee portion of the premium based on meeting specific goals.  

 
 
 
Jack_TX
Junior Quiet
2.2.1  Jack_TX  replied to  Snuffy @2.2    3 weeks ago
Like I said in #3 below, it's more common for employers to offer incentives to reduce the employee portion of the premium based on meeting specific goals. 

It's going to be interesting, especially if somebody challenges it on religious grounds.  But as you say in #3, it probably would have been easier just to make vaccination a condition of employment.

 
 
 
Snuffy
Junior Quiet
3  Snuffy    3 weeks ago

This will be an interesting court case I'm sure.  Lots of companies have offered incentives in reduced rates if you meet specific goals health-wise,  don't know of other companies that charge more for employee insurance like this however.  Not sure how it's going to end up.  I suspect they would have an easier go of it if they just mandated all employees must be vaccinated to remain employed.

 
 
 
evilgenius
Professor Guide
3.1  seeder  evilgenius  replied to  Snuffy @3    3 weeks ago
This will be an interesting court case I'm sure.

Per the article there is precidence, but yeah. I'm already hearing increased health care costs are being transfered to insurance carriers. It's only a matter of time before insurance rates go way, way up.

EDIT: Per the article - 

an exception in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) allows employers to use incentives as part of a workplace wellness program, and that's how the coronavirus vaccine charges will be set up.

I wonder if that really means they'll set it up as a $200 charge for ALL employees and then give those who got vaccinated a credit as the incentive? 

 
 
 
Paula Bartholomew
Professor Guide
4  Paula Bartholomew    3 weeks ago

Airplanes are giant germ tubes to begin with, so damned skippy I want the crew vaccinated.

 
 
 
SteevieGee
Senior Silent
5  SteevieGee    3 weeks ago

Just as insurance companies charge more if you're a smoker they will have to make up the losses from covid hospitalizations somehow.  They will charge Delta more for not mandating vaccinations so it only makes sense that Delta will try to recoup some of that. 

 
 
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