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: Should unvaccinated employees pay more for health insurance? American workers give their verdict

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A sizable share of workers support higher insurance rates for employees not vaccinated against COVID-19, according to new research released before Delta Air Lines
DAL,
-1.28%

announced it would introduce a $200 health-insurance surcharge for its unvaccinated workers.

Some 41% of workers in a national poll conducted by Ipsos for the management consulting firm Eagle Hill Consulting backed insurance-rate hikes for unvaccinated workers, with baby boomers showing the highest level of support (45%) and Gen Z respondents showing the lowest (23%).

The survey of 1,010 workers, released this week, was conducted Aug. 8 to Aug. 11 — two weeks before Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian’s announcement to staff Wednesday that unvaccinated employees enrolled in Delta’s “account-based healthcare plan” would pay a $200 monthly surcharge starting Nov. 1.

Starting Sept. 30, only fully vaccinated workers with breakthrough COVID-19 infections will be eligible for pay protection, Bastian added. Seventy-five percent of Delta employees are vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to his memo. 

“I know some of you may be taking a wait-and-see approach or waiting for full FDA approval,” he said. “With this week’s announcement that the FDA has granted full approval for the Pfizer vaccine, the time for you to get vaccinated is now.”

Related: Delta Air Lines is charging unvaccinated workers $200. 12 other penalties for shunning the COVID shot

The COVID-19 vaccines substantially reduce the risk of severe illness that can lead to hospitalization. Unvaccinated adults’ hospitalizations for COVID-19 cost the U.S. healthcare system $2.3 billion in June and July, according to a recent analysis by the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the healthcare think tank KFF.

“This ballpark figure is likely an understatement of the cost burden on the health system,” the report said.

Health insurers may be limited by state and federal regulations in their ability to price policies based on health factors, economists say. The Affordable Care Act does allow insurance companies to raise premiums by up to 50% for tobacco users, though some studies have suggested these surcharges reduced insurance takeup and didn’t necessarily help workers quit smoking.

Delta’s announcement came as the highly contagious delta variant continued to spread throughout the U.S., hospitalizations ticked up, and the country’s stagnated vaccination rates rose. As of Wednesday, 73% of U.S. adults had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 63% were fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

See also: As Delta’s $200 staff surcharge shows, employers face a dilemma: keeping workers safe — and holding onto their employees

In the wake of the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer
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-0.27%

-BioNTech
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-1.61%

coronavirus vaccine this week, President Biden called on more private-sector companies to institute immunization requirements to boost the country’s vaccination rates.

“If you’re a business leader, a nonprofit leader, a state or local leader who has been waiting for full FDA approval to require vaccinations, I call on you now to do that — require it,” he said.

Respondents to the Eagle Hill Consulting survey were divided 50-50 on employers mandating vaccines for in-person work. Compared to similar polling by the firm in April, increasing shares of respondents in August favored punitive measures for unvaccinated workers, such as not receiving special remote-work allowances, not being able to travel for work, and not being able to work in person with customers or coworkers.

Though policies vary by company and workers can seek religious or medical exemptions, an increasing number of employers have announced COVID-19 vaccine mandates for in-person work, including Google
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-0.45%
,
Facebook
FB,
-1.09%
,
Tyson
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-0.77%

and Disney
DIS,
-0.98%
.

Some companies, such as Walmart
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-1.08%

and McDonald’s
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-0.79%
,
have mandated vaccinations for office workers but stopped short of instituting requirements for frontline workers.

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