“More hospitals and medical businesses in many states are adopting strict policies that make HIV/AIDS a reason to turn away job applicants, saying they want to increase worker productivity, reduce health costs and encourage healthier living….There is no reliable data on how many businesses have adopted such policies. But people tracking the issue say there are enough examples to suggest the policies are becoming more mainstream, and in some states courts have upheld the legality of refusing to employ HIV/AIDS sufferers.” This is adapted from a front page article in Friday’s Times by A.G. Sulzberger
I have purposely substituted the words HIV/AIDS for the words SMOKING and SMOKERS in order to dramatize this blatant example of discrimination. This is so unlike the America that mainstreams handicapped children into public schools or pays their tuition in full at special private schools. This growing policy doesn’t sound like the America that provides medical care for illegal immigrants even when they are on life support systems that run into millions of dollars and prolonged hospital stays. It doesn’t resemble the New York that allowed Medicaid patients to have round the clock private nursing care at home instead of placing patients in institutions at half the cost to the public. Nor does it sound like the Medicaid patients whose low birth weight babies populate extravagantly expensive neo-natal units throughout the country.
If you reacted with incredulity to the opening paragraph, it’s because you know that this wouldn’t happen to people with HIV/AIDS who are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ensuring that people with disabilities are treated the same as everyone else. It can certainly be argued that in most cases HIV/AIDS is as much a result of life choices as the various diseases exacerbated or caused by smoking. Much of the spread of AIDS comes from unprotected sex, anal intercourse and the exchange of bodily fluids - all as much voluntary acts as lighting a cigarette. One could even argue that smoking is an addiction where the individual loses some autonomy to chemical and biological imperatives whereas one willfully decides whether or not to use a condom. Yet we treat people with HIV/AIDS as a privileged class while we treat smokers as pariahs.
With smokers, virtucrats have found one of the few remaining targets for condescension and persecution. Women, minorities and the disabled are all protected by law but smokers are the outcasts, our contemporary version of lepers. This is particularly galling since we still contribute to the ongoing subsidy of tobacco farmers while the government reaps the benefit of the exorbitant tax on cigarettes. If we are to allow hospitals and other medical businesses to discriminate on the grounds of an estimated annual increase of $3,391 in smokers’ health care costs, why shouldn’t women of child-bearing age fall into the same equation? Obstetric costs, fertility treatments and maternity leaves far outweigh that estimate as do the medical costs of most working people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, glaucoma or heart disease. Until the government makes tobacco illegal and bans the sale of cigarettes, the civil rights of smokers should be fully protected and hospitals and businesses that discriminate against them should be assailed by all government agencies entrusted with that mandate.
OF interest, the same hospitals that refuse to hire smokers may rent lobby concessions to Starbucks whose sugary concoctions have as many calories as an entire meal. At this point in time more people have been made aware of the perils of smoking than of drinking venti strawberries and cream frappucinos with whipped cream and 600 empty calories. With the country suffering from an epidemic of obesity and diabetes, isn’t it hypocritical for hospitals to be selling this while refusing to give a person who smokes at home a job?
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