National

North Carolina to adopt 'fat tax' on state employees

North Carolina is poised to become only the second state to penalize state employees by placing them in a more expensive health insurance plan if they're obese.

Smokers will feel the drag of higher costs, too, as North Carolina and South Carolina state employees who use tobacco are slated to pay more for health insurance next year.

N.C. officials, coping with a steady uptick in health care costs for state employees each year, are aiming to improve state workers' health, which saves money in medical expenses.

"Tobacco use and poor nutrition and inactivity are the leading causes of preventable deaths in our state," said Anne Rogers, director of integrated health management with the N.C. State Employees Health Plan. "We need a healthy workforce in this state. We're trying to encourage individuals to adopt healthy lifestyles."

State workers who don't cut out the Marlboros and Big Macs will end up paying more for health insurance. Tobacco users get placed in a more expensive insurance plan starting in July and, for those who qualify as obese, in July 2011.

Some state employees, though, are criticizing the planned changes. The State Employees Association of North Carolina opposes the tobacco and obesity differentials as invasive steps that could have been avoided if the legislature had fixed the plan.

"It's my understanding they're talking about testing (for tobacco use) in the workplace which, to me, would create a hostile environment," said Kim Martin, a sergeant at Piedmont Correctional Institution in Salisbury. "And it's an invasion of privacy. This is America, the land of the free. I don't think (body mass index is) a very good measure. I know some folks who would have a high body mass index because they're muscular."

To read the complete article, visit www.charlotteobserver.com.

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