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USA Today Says Baylor Health Care Has Gone ‘Down a Dangerous Road’ With Tobacco Ban

Joel Allison
Baylor Health CEO Joel Allison

USA Today opines that when a company refuses to hire anyone who smokes tobacco it “crosses a troubling line.” The newspaper singles out Dallas’ own Baylor Health Care System, which formalized its anti-smoking policy as of January 1, in an editorial:

Treating smoking, in essence, like illegal drug use takes Baylor and an increasing number of other employers down a dangerous road, one that extends far too deeply into the private lives of prospective workers.

Joel Allison, the CEO of Baylor, discussed the ban with me during our recent breakfast at the Original Pancake House on Lemmon Avenue. The policy is not limited merely to smokers but includes use of any nicotine products:

“Is that legal?” I ask him, only half-serious.

“We would not do anything that would be considered illegal,” he says, completely serious. “We’re in the healthcare business, so we want people to practice good health.”

Allison also believes it’s important for Baylor to do what it can to keep its own costs down. Before this all-out ban, the company had already placed a surcharge on smokers who participated in its health insurance plan. “Five percent of the population uses up about 50 percent of the health care cost,” he says.

To which USA Today declares a SLIPPERY SLOPE ALERT:

If employers routinely reject people who engage in risky, but legal, behavior on their own time, what about such things as overeating or drinking too much alcohol? If smoker bans reduce health care expenses, cost-conscious employers might be tempted to stake out new and even more intrusive territory under the “wellness program” banner. A bit further down the road lies hiring based on genetics. In that world, inheriting a gene that shows a predisposition to a costly disease could cost you a job.

Wow. Suddenly we’re living in Gattaca:

15 comments on “USA Today Says Baylor Health Care Has Gone ‘Down a Dangerous Road’ With Tobacco Ban

  1. In addition to the no smoking rule they probably ought to start a no obesity program for employees. Go over there and take a look at their people. Fat, everywhere. But that is probably true for most medical employee in most medical providers all over Texas.

  2. How about a NO viagra rule or a NO drinking alcohol rule?
    How about a “NO Enjoyment Allowed” rule?
    I am pretty tired of big brother telling me what I can and can’t do in my private time.
    As long as I am a productive employee with little or no health claims on their companie’s insurance, I say leave me the hell alone.

  3. If Baylor is going to ban tobacco, it must ban alcohol……………….is Baylor ready to forgo Federal Funds? What a slippery slope indead. Put on your seat belts, it’s gonna be a bumpy road. Eww, this is going to be fun. I can see it all now lobbyists, congressmen, insurance companies, lawyers, bar owners and all that that implies, smokers, non-smokers, drunks, no more need for AA, we’ll all be well and insurance costs will plummet no more need for insurance companies. Wait, what?.

  4. Baylor already fines their employees ($650/year) for high blood pressure, smoking, working occasionally around a smoker (or secondary smoke exposure), trying to quit smoking, being obese, not giving the employer a record of their medical history and not keeping an open record of an exercise plan.

  5. Bob,
    Baylor does not require any of that. Mr. Allison is correct that 5% of the population incurs 50% of the healthcare costs. We have to begin to try to identify not only those people but those at risk for becoming the “5%”. Baylor is self-insured and looking at a steep decline in revenues going forward and every dollar saved helps protect jobs. Everyone in the system needs to try to live healthier so that we can continue to mitigate costs. Spectator and GMOM would not be so aghast if an car insurance company dropped or markedly increased rates on someone who had multiple wrecks and DUI’s…why the outrage that a healthcare system is trying to get its employees to be healthier?? Oh and spectator…hopefully we can someday help you to live a longer healthier life by getting you to engage in healthy behavior in your private time. The costs you may someday incur actually do affect all of us.

  6. Companies started providing group health insurance for their employees to get around wage/price freezes during WWII. The tax code fueled the fire by making the cost of health insurance deductible for companies and not individuals. The tax code has been changed – now companies can provide a flat dollar amount for employees and they can buy their own individual policy and/or employees can reduce their income and pay the premiums with pre tax dollars. For those in good health, the individual premiums are substantially less than group coverage. For those with “pre-existing” conditions, there is a state or federal pool. Employers should get out of the defined benefit group insurance plans and provide defined contributions for employees to make their own insurance purchase decisions and the employees are then responsible for paying the cost of their personal health decisions (obesity, drug abuse, smoking …).

    As far as smoking workers, it has been my experience with my smoking employees that their schedule goes something like this since buildings are non-smoking now:
    Upon arriving at the office, stand outside for 5 minutes to finish the last cigarette before entering smelling of smoke.
    At about 30 minutes after the hour, they start planning their first smoke break which starts at 45 minutes after the hour when they leave to go stand outside the building to smoke and they arrive back in at the top of the hour smelling of smoke.
    This is repeated all day.

  7. It is true that all employees were required to fill out a form that asked questions about blood pressure, BMI, if they were exposed to secondary smoke and if they were having unprotected sex with multiple partners. If you refused the questioner you were fined.

  8. Baylor is certainly concerned about having to pay the high cost of health care. I guess they know how much they charge.

  9. According to the DMN, Joel Allison earned about 2.3 million dollars in 2009. Guess they need to cut somewhere to make payroll.

  10. So how many of you outraged want to be treated by a health care professional that doesn’t take care of their health and is so ignorant or unprofessional that they don’t care about the unambiguous overwhelming evidence that tobacco usage kills people? (Estimated at 400,000 annually, 100X 9-11′s death toll).

    Tobacco is a a drug that is more addictive that cocaine (per Dr. Koop) it has no beneficial health affects of any kind, in fact it is the only product sold in America that when used per the manufactures’ instructions it will kill you.

    False equivalency and hysterical claims of slippery sloop is the type of shallow poorly thought out claims that keep the tobacco industry in business. Tobacco is not candy, junk food or beer it is an addictive drug marketed to juveniles.

    I have buried two family members who’s deaths were directly attributable to tobacco. The way they died I won’t wish on my worst enemy, a tobacco executive maybe.

  11. just wonder why they went all the way to IHOP on Lemmon, when AllGood Cafe is right around the corner…

  12. mns: You have no idea what I engage in during my private time and if I have my way, you never will.

    You ASSUME that I smoke or that I am living an unhealthy lifestyle . . . not true!

    Every year the cost of my health insurance goes up and I seldom have more than 1 claim for a routine office visit for thyroid follow-up.

    How many uninsured babies are born at Baylor every year?

    I have been hit multiple times by uninsured drivers and have had to pay for the damage to my car because I was hit by an illegal immigrant. The un-insured are mostly who is running up the cost of healthcare.

    What I resent is the intrusion into my private life based on the assumption that I am doing something that I should not be doing behind closed doors. This society needs to address the ills which are eating this country alive right before our eyes. Until those issues are addressed in a responsible and productive manner I will say, “Pease stay out of my PRIVATE life.”

    I don’t think insurance should be used for routine medical care. Yes, I would agree that many people are overweight, smoke, engage in unhealthy sexual behavior, etc. but still, we can’t allow the camel to get its nose under the tent because then, where does it stop?

  13. @me: We ate at Original Pancake House, not IHOP. The restaurant was Mr. Allison’s choice, as I always let the article’s subject pick where we’ll eat for my Breakfast With D CEO series.

    He said he chose it because it was convenient to the office and he likes the choices there.

    AllGood Cafe doesn’t open until 9 am, and we met at 7.

  14. I’m being fined and I don’t smoke, I’m not obese, I don’t have high blood pressure but I am old.