Ochsner Health, Louisiana’s largest non-profit health care system, says it will charge employees enrolled in its 2022 health care benefits program a fee for spouses and domestic partners who are not vaccinated against Covid-19.
The fee is similar to what has been in place for tobacco users and is in line with the benefits offered by other health care organizations and companies, Ochsner’s President and CEO Warner Thomas said in a statement this week.
“This is not a mandate as non-employed spouses and domestic partners can choose to select a health plan outside of Ochsner Health offerings. As with our employee vaccination policy, spouses and domestic partners with medical and religious objections will be able to file exemption requests,” the CEO said.
While the provider tries to keep health premiums low for employees, Thomas said “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.”
There are three Covid-19 vaccines available in the US. When the highly contagious Delta variant sent Covid-19 cases surging once again over the summer, hospitals and local leaders across the country said the majority of hospitalized patients were unvaccinated people.
An analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation published in September estimated that preventable costs for treating hospitalized, unvaccinated Covid-19 patients reached $5.7 billion over the previous three months.
Roughly 90% of Covid-19 patients hospitalized in the provider’s facilities since vaccines became available have been unvaccinated, Thomas said in his statement.
“We know that COVID-19 vaccination dramatically reduces transmission, severity of symptoms, hospitalizations, and death,” the statement added. “Widespread vaccination is critical to stopping the spread of COVID-19, and we hope this change will encourage even more community members to get vaccinated.”
Roughly 65.1% of eligible Americans have been fully vaccinated, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 45.5% of Louisiana’s residents are fully vaccinated.
The state saw its worst Covid-19 surge over the summer and Gov. John Bel Edwards announced on Friday he was expanding a vaccine incentive program beyond college students to include anyone in the state who gets a Covid-19 vaccine.
“Our COVID data show that Louisiana is thankfully coming down from our fourth and most dangerous surge. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, the bad news is that we still have a lot of COVID in all 64 parishes,” State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter said in a statement. “We must do everything we can to stay safe and stop the next surge, and that includes getting the COVID vaccine.”
The vaccines are free, safe and readily available across Louisiana, Kanter said, adding that “it’s never been more urgent to get the shot.”
Earlier this week, the governor also said he was extending the statewide indoor mask mandate for another four weeks and also urged people to get vaccinated.
“In the month of September alone, Louisiana reported that 1,470 people died of COVID, which is tragic, as we know that the vast majority of these deaths were likely preventable,” the governor said in a statement. “We have to get Louisiana’s vaccine rate up even more so that we have strong vaccine protection in our communities. Just over half of all people in Louisiana who are eligible for the vaccine are fully vaccinated. That’s why masking right now is important still.”
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