Employees of a hospital system in Louisiana are facing a possible increase in their health care costs: $100 will be deducted from every paycheck if their spouse or partner on their plan isn't vaccinated for COVID-19. Ochsner Health workers already have an Oct. 29 deadline for being fully vaccinated themselves, NOLA.com reports. The "spousal COVID vaccine fee" will begin next year and could add up to $2,400 per year. Children and other dependents won't trigger the charge, just spouses and domestic partners who have health coverage through the employee's plan and are eligible for the shots.
The CEO of Ochsner, Louisiana's largest health care system, said the added pressure is to help keep premiums down for employees. The system is self-insured, per NBC, so it pays directly for treatment of COVID patients on its plan. That bill was $9 million over the past year, Warner Thomas said. And most of Ochsner's COVID-19 patients have not been vaccinated; health professionals regularly express frustration that more people aren't vaccinated. Thomas said the new policy isn't a mandate, since partners and spouses, who can ask for a medical or religious exemption, can buy insurance elsewhere. He likened the policy to an existing one affecting tobacco users, per CNN.
Employers are entitled to impose such charges, a New Orleans lawyer and professor said. "They have a right to minimize their risks," Joel Friedman said. Charles Stoecker, another Tulane University professor, said: "Now those people have some incentives to consider the cost of the care that they're asking other people to pay for. If you're asking everybody else to assume the risk for your unvaccinated stay in the ICU, it does make more sense that you should have to kick in more into the insurance pool." An employee lawsuit over Ochsner's vaccine mandate for employees was tossed out last month. (Read more coronavirus vaccine stories.)