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Can Employers Punish Employees If Spouses Aren’t Vaccinated?

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Wesley J. Smith
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How much power do we want to give employers?

First, President Biden pushed employers to force employees to receive a medical intervention, i.e., a COVID vaccine. Even before the new rule has been promulgated, many companies are now imposing the requirement and firing employees who disobey.

Now, at least one employer is going a further step to fine workers if their spouses aren’t vaccinated. From the Daily Mail story:

Louisiana‘s largest health system is ratcheting up the pressure to get people vaccinated against COVID-19 and will start fining employees hundreds of dollars each month if they are married to someone who is unvaccinated.

Ochsner Health has told its workers it will charge them a monthly premium of $200 if a spouse or domestic partner covered under an Ochsner health plan have not been vaccinated.

Ochsner has said all employees must be vaccinated by October 29 to keep their jobs.

Wait just a darn second. What could allow such an intrusive approach?

President and CEO Warner Thomas said the surcharge for unvaccinated spouses and partners is part of an effort to keep health premiums low for employees. As a self-insured organization, Ochsner bears the cost of COVID treatment for patients who are on its insurance plan. Unvaccinated people account for the vast majority of the health system’s COVID patients.

‘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,’ Thomas said in a statement.

The COVID vaccine fee for spouses will begin in 2022 and could deduct up to $2,400 yearly from the employee’s paycheck.

Usually, the Affordable Care Act would preclude such a course as it prohibits most underwriting. But self-insurers have different rules, so this might be legal — although the amount charged seems arbitrary rather than based on a careful analysis of data.

On one hand, I understand the concern. But is it about controlling costs, or about controlling behavior?

Ochsner’s innovative approach to vaccines raises important liberty issues: How intrusive into the privacy of workers’ families should a self-insured employer have the right to be? How far will we allow a self-insured employer to punish workers because of the health decisions of covered family members? For example, should Ochsner impose a further surcharge if children aren’t vaccinated — even though youngsters have very little risk of serious illness from COVID? And should surcharges be allowed also with regard to other life choices that can add significantly to health-care costs such as obesity and promiscuity? After all, once a precedent is set. . . .

Adding a health surcharge raises an even more overarching worry. The Biden administration has readily used COVID as the pretext to empower private-sector coercion to gain our compliance with government-desired policies. That’s a prescription for corporatocracy that allows control without engaging democratic processes or overcoming the impediment of constitutional checks and balances.

Thus, don’t be surprised if President Biden signs an emergency order allowing health-insurance companies to underwrite for COVID (and other) vaccines under the Affordable Care Act as they now can for smoking. The technocracy likes such sledge-hammer approaches. It’s so much more efficient than persuasion.