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Workers who smoke face health insurance fee

In an effort to keep company health care costs down, employees of Meijer who smoke will now have to pay $25 more per month for their health insurance.

This is something that Judith Clark, a national Meijer representative, says will keep down health costs and help the megastore remain competitive.

“It wasn’t so much us wanting to charge smokers, it’s just a way to control higher health insurance rates,” Clark said. “This is one way to try and keep the rates down, and also try to have our employees live a healthier lifestyle.”

Since the new charges have been brought on, some employees at the local Meijer – both smokers and non – can see the reasoning behind the health costs increase.

Angie Easterwood, fashion team leader, is a smoker and agrees with Meijer’s new decision to charge smokers more on health insurance if they maintain the unhealthy habit.

“We all initially complained, but now we understand it better,” Easterwood said. “There is more risk with people who smoke versus people who don’t.”

Easterwood says that a lot of employees have already attempted to quit smoking due to the new charges.

Helen Nyqust, bakery worker, also smokes, and thinks this is not such a bad idea.

“I won’t say smoking is wrong, but we are at a high health risk,” Nyqust said. “I don’t disagree with it, and you can’t blame the insurance companies for doing this.”

Al Lawrence, store director in charge at Meijer, says he hasn’t received any complaints by any of the workers thus far.

Clark says that the lack of complaints is probably due to smokers now realizing how much money they actually spend on cigarettes.

“It’s been very well received,” Clark said. “We haven’t had any criticism that we thought we would have gotten. I think smokers are starting to realize that smoking is an extra cost.”

But not all Meijer employees think the new charges are unnecessary.

Bonnie Rist, bakery worker, doesn’t smoke and still thinks the charges are uncalled for.

“I don’t really agree with it because they shouldn’t be penalizing people for smoking, they already spend enough money on cigarettes,” Rist said. “It could be an attempt to stop people from smoking, but it’s their habit and they should be able to do it.”

Clark says that this is something Meijer needed to do not only to control health rates, but to also attract more people to work there.

“This was a business decision to keep our health care costs down,” she said. “This is also a way to offer all of our team member health insurance. We feel that as a company it is an attractive thing to offer in a competitive business market.”

Since Meijer is now increasing charges on smokers, it is definitely a possibility at Kroger, according to Dan Galway, Bowling Green’s Kroger store manager.

“I can say that health care is changing every day,” Galway said. “Companies are looking for ways to keep their people healthy and keep down the health costs.”

Galway also thinks that this would be a good way for smokers to quit.

“I think that people that smoke realize it is a health problem and it might cause people to change their lifestyle,” he said. “I think a lot of smokers are looking for a reason to quit and this could be the reason.”

If anyone does have complaints about the health insurance wanting to charge smokers extra money, Galway tells them to look at the statistics.

“I think the statistics speak for themselves,” he said. “Smokers eat up more of the health insurance than non-smokers.”

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