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Louisiana health system charging workers $200 for unvaccinated spouses

Do vaccine incentive programs work?
Do vaccine incentive programs work? 07:49

It could pay to encourage your spouse to become vaccinated against COVID-19, especially as the financial cost of refusing to get the jab rises. 

Ochsner Health, the largest nonprofit health care system in Louisiana, announced it will charge workers an additional $200 per month to insure their unvaccinated spouses or partners covered by the hospital group's insurance policies, citing the high cost of caring for and treating patients with COVID-19. 

The company referred to the new surcharge, which will take effect in 2022, as a "cost adjustment for adult dependents (spouses and domestic partners) who are not vaccinated against COVID-19."

Ochsner already requires all of its 32,000 employees to be vaccinated, unless they qualify for a religious or medical exemption.

Employees whose adult dependents wish to remain unvaccinated and also dodge the fee can seek health insurance elsewhere, Ochsner noted. 

Doctor talks COVID-19 surges and immunity 12:57

"This is not a mandate as non-employed spouses and domestic partners can choose to select a health plan outside of Ochsner Health offerings," Ochsner Health President and CEO Warner Thomas said in a statement. 

The shift will help Ochsner keep costs and health premiums low for employees who have decided to inoculate themselves against the virus. Ochsner has already spent over $9 million on treatment costs related to COVID-19 for its employees. 

"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," Warner said. 

Since vaccines were approved, roughly 90% of all patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at Ochsner facilities have been unvaccinated, the hospital system said. 

Get the jab or pick up the tab

Other employers, including Delta Air Lines have, said they will tack on similar monthly fees for employees who remain unvaccinated. 

Delta CEO Ed Bastian over the summer said unvaccinated employees participating in the company's health care plan will incur an additional $200 monthly fee beginning in November, citing the high cost of hospital stays for COVID-19 patients and the risks they pose to the company's earnings. 

"The average hospital stay for COVID-19 has cost Delta $50,000 per person. This surcharge will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company," Bastian said in a memo to employees. 

The threat of a financial penalty is a way motivate vaccine holdouts to roll up their sleeves. There's also a precedent for raising insurance premiums for individuals deemed a greater health risk, such as smokers, who are more likely to die of cancer and tend to face higher health care costs than nonsmokers.

"Because of the emergence of the Delta variant and because vaccination levels have stalled out with employers, they're trying to take some more stick-type measures rather than the incentive," said Wade Symons, a partner at Mercer Health, a benefits consulting firm. "They're looking for something that's going to move the needle, and they're looking at a surcharge as a potential option for that." 

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