US Airline tells unvaxxed workers: Your health insurance is going up

This is one of those stories that will get people very angry, with justification. But that does not mean that there is only one side to it, so let’s look at both.

Insurers, after all, price in risk. And, like it or not, the risk tables are coming in from around the world, and they are very clear. If you are unvaxxed, and have not had covid before (this is an important caveat), then you are vastly more likely to end up in hospital than somebody who has been vaccinated, or somebody who has had covid before. That is not an ideological point. It is not something that can be argued. It is just what the figures say. Some people will argue with the figures, but insurance companies do not make money by second guessing figures like these, like it or not.

It is not surprising, then, that insurance companies and suppliers, like employers, would start to price it in:

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian notified employees Wednesday that they will face $200 monthly increases on their health insurance premiums starting Nov. 1 if they aren’t vaccinated against Covid-19, citing steep costs to cover employees who are hospitalized with the virus.

Unvaccinated employees will face other restrictions, including indoor masking effective immediately and weekly Covid-19 tests starting Sept. 12, the Atlanta-based airline said in announcing new Covid policies for employees.

Of course, there is a counterpoint to this argument, also, and it is important to mention it: Why don’t insurers apply this rule across the board, for other conditions? People like me who carry plenty of fat reserves for our winter hibernation do not, at present, face higher insurance costs. One of the biggest policy achievements of American liberalism in recent years, in fact, was banning insurance providers from charging extra if you had a “pre existing condition” – that is to say, if you are a diabetic, you are more likely to end up in hospital, so your insurance costs more.

Here in Ireland, about the only factor they can take into account is age. Get your health insurance young, and keep it up, and you will get it cheaper than if you get it in your sixties. The idea is called “risk pooling”, with the basic idea being that young, healthy, insured people carry some extra cost to fund cheaper premiums for those who might need the insurance more often.

But all of this poses a moral question: Should insurers have this right? Not taking a vaccine, after all, is a choice. Being fat and diabetic, some might argue, is a result of choices, but the link is much less direct. With the vaccine, you can draw a direct line from decision, to potential consequence. It is still a perfectly reasonable choice, and nobody should be forced to take one – but does that choice make you immune from financial penalty? And should it?

For example, does anybody object that smokers pay more in life assurance premiums than non-smokers? Smoking, or not smoking, is just as much a choice as getting vaccinated, or not getting vaccinated. Nobody seriously claims that higher premiums for smokers are unfair, after all.

To the extent, then, that this is coercion, it is the kind of coercion which we have always accepted in society, for good or ill. It is not a company mandating that people take vaccines, it is simply a company saying “here are your choices, and the costs of those choices”.

This is very different from a policy which, say, said that those who refused a vaccine would lose their jobs. That would be coercion, because it would make your employment conditional on receiving a medical treatment which is not strictly necessary for you in the course of doing your job. No company, for example, would ever say that “smokers will be sacked”. The most they will do is say “no smoking on company time or property”, which, again, is fair enough.

The problem, here, ultimately, is that people who have not been vaccinated feel aggrieved because they believe that society should respond to their choice by treating them exactly as it treats people who have made the opposite choice. That’s not an unfair expectation, or an inherently unreasonable one, especially when so many people in that cohort are willing to prove their immunity in other ways, via antigen tests, or certificates proving natural immunity. To many such people, the demand that they take a vaccine that they do not strictly need, just so as to protect “the herd”, comes across as oppressive. And they are correct: It is oppressive.

But that does not mean that in matters where their choice might affect the cost of their own personal healthcare, their choice should be free. No choice is. There are many criticisms to make about vaccine mandates (and, if this piece has you steaming mad, look elsewhere on Gript, and in my own previous writing, to find those criticisms).

The real issue here relates to the cohort who have already had covid and who, the science says, actually have stronger immunity to getting covid again than people who are vaccinated, and have not had covid. What on earth could be the actuarial justification for charging those people more for insurance? That is not, and cannot be, a decision about risk. If they’re doing that, then it is simply outright coercion by private companies, and that, above all, must be resisted.

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