UPenn Health Won’t Hire Smokers Starting July 1st

Current employees who use tobacco could be subject to higher health-insurance premiums.

Dang. Talk about bringing down the hammer. The University of Pennsylvania Health System announced yesterday that starting July 1st, it won’t hire any more tobacco users. The policy covers all future employees, including physicians, and includes all of the health system’s locations, with the exception of clinical practices in New Jersey.

Residents and fellows will be subject to the policy starting July 1, 2014, allowing for the lengthy recruitment process; notably, professors and staff at the university will not fall within the policy’s purview.

The move is an effort to “improve the overall health of our workforce while reducing health care benefit costs,” according to the UPHS website. Current employees will be asked to disclose their tobacco use—and the tobacco use of their spouse and dependents who are on the health plan—during open enrollment later this year. Those employees will be eligible for free smoking cessation counseling and nicotine replacement therapy. If they don’t enroll in those programs, they’ll pay a higher premium for health coverage.

Because I know you’re wondering, new hires won’t be subject to urine or other kinds of nicotine screening tests. “Applicants for employment on or after July 1, 2013 will be asked to attest that they are non-tobacco users on their employment application. Falsification of information on the employment application is grounds for discipline up to and including termination,” the website says. Current employees will be held to the same truth-telling standard.

So is this policy legal? Surprisingly, yes. “The federal anti-discrimination laws and Pennsylvania anti-discrimination laws do not protect smokers as a protected class,” local employee rights attorney Laura Mattiacci told NBC 10. The hope is that by weeding out tobacco users, UPHS can lower its health care costs, though, it admits, there haven’t been any studies to prove that such measures actually work.

>> What do you think of the new UPHS smoking policy? Fair? Unfair? Sound off in the comments.

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