Ochsner employees face $200 monthly fee for un-vaccinated partner’s health coverage

Louisiana

LAFAYETTE, La (KLFY) Ochsner Health System is putting pressure on not just employees to get vaccinated, but their significant others as well.

A new spousal COVID vaccine fee was recently announced to employees.

Ochsner says starting in 2022, any un-vaccinated adult dependent on the company’s insurance policy will have to pay an additional $200 a month.

Ochsner’s motivations can be summed up well as reducing costs and increasing their insurance network’s wellbeing. The system admits to spending millions on COVID care for those covered under their health plans over the last year.

To answer the questions should private insurers charge for remaining unvaccinated, we requested comment from Ochsner and was given a statement from President and CEO Warner Thomas. It states,

“Each year, Ochsner Health evaluates health insurance and other benefits based on feedback from our employees and changes that impact benefits, services and costs. Our competitive benefits plans are one of many offerings that make Ochsner a top employer in the Gulf South.

One change to the upcoming 2022 healthcare benefits offering is a cost adjustment for adult dependents (spouses and domestic partners) who are not vaccinated against COVID-19. This fee is similar to what’s been in place for tobacco users and is in line with the benefits offered by many healthcare organizations and companies. This is not a mandate as non-employed spouses and domestic partners can choose to select a health plan outside of Ochsner Health offerings. As with our employee vaccination policy, spouses and domestic partners with medical and religious objections will be able to file exemption requests.

As a self-insured organization, we work hard every year to keep our health premiums low for our employees and their families. The reality is the cost of treating COVID-19, particularly for patients requiring intensive inpatient care, is expensive, and we spent more than $9 million on COVID care for those who are covered on our health plans over the last year. We know that COVID-19 vaccination dramatically reduces transmission, severity of symptoms, hospitalizations, and death. Approximately 90% of those hospitalized with COVID in our facilities have been unvaccinated since vaccines were approved in December 2020.

Widespread vaccination is critical to stopping the spread of COVID-19, and we hope this change will encourage even more community members to get vaccinated. We encourage employees with questions about employee benefits to send questions directly to Human Resources.”

Warner Thomas, President and CEO, Ochsner Health

Under the new ‘spousal covid vaccine fee’, insured people with an unvaccinated adult dependent can expect to spend an extra $2,400 a year. The fee is being met with mixed opinions. Some even wonder if something like this is allowed. Tulane associate professor and health economist, Charles Stoecker says it is.

“Some employers plans have goals for weight loss or smoking cessation, and so just adding a disincentive for not getting a COVID vaccination is in line with all of these other programs that these employers can and already do,” Stoecker said.

He explained self-insured companies can impose fairly broad requirements provided they are necessary for the operation of the business. Given that 90% of those hospitalized with COVID in Ochsner facilities have been unvaccinated since vaccines were approved, they are likely fall within those lines.

“If everyone was vaccinated, health insurance would be a lot cheaper because there would be fewer people racking up these $50,000+ bills of hospitalizations,” Stoecker stated. “So what this plan does is it shifts some of those costs to people that are making some of the decisions that are incurring those costs.”

With little support for a national vaccine mandate, Stoecker predicts the approach will likely spread to other businesses.

“We’re going to see these organizations, like employers, that are interested in keeping their employees healthy and not having to pay the health insurance cost for their employees implementing these incentive programs to nudge the employees to get vaccinated,” Stoecker concluded.

The fee again goes into effect in 2022. Spouses can apply for health and religious exemptions or purchase health insurance elsewhere.

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