We are concerned by the decision of Danville-based Geisinger Health Systems to test for nicotine and not hire nicotine users.
We support the company's right to make this decision, just as we support the right of companies to "discriminate" based on legal criteria. It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender or national origin. It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of genetic information - though we suspect that criterion might be changed as genetics becomes more precise. It might or might not be illegal to discriminate on the basis of disabilities; a concept called "reasonable accommodation" comes into play here, and the criteria are so subjective that, in competitive hiring, proof is difficult, although discrimination against existing employees who develop disabilities is less fuzzy
But it is not illegal to discriminate on the basis of smoking, use of illegal drugs, weight - or, for that matter, height, body piercings, body odor, hair color, etc.
Geisinger's decision is no small thing. The company has more than 15,000 employees. Danville, about two hours east of us along Interstate 80, is something of a "company town." Geisinger's decision could well translate into "I have to leave town, or even leave Pennsylvania," for tobacco users with specialized skill sets relevant specifically to health care.
At first blush, the better solution might seem to be to change existing policies, and laws if need be, to allow employers to charge varying rates for health care insurance based upon known health hazards, certainly including tobacco use and possibly including obesity, alcohol abuse, etc.
But if we travel very far down that road, we destroy the concept of "group" health insurance, since eventually, insurance at reasonable cost would become available only to those who, except for fickle fate, probably will not need to use it because they are disgustingly healthy.
We are cheered by one thing. Geisinger's decision is that of a private company, operating privately. That is as it should be. Employers who make such choices deliberately exclude from consideration potential workers who could bring profit-enhancing skills to their work.
This isn't new. At the start of World War II, it became apparent that school lunches were needed because far too many draft-eligible Americans of that era were too malnourished to be serviceable soldiers, even in the "cannon fodder" atmosphere of that era.
This is another wake-up call, coinciding with the tradition of New Year's resolutions.
Better health, anyone?
- (DuBois) Courier-Express