KSAT Defenders: City employees erroneously charged for tobacco use

47 workers failed to properly document status

Author: Brian Mylar, Reporter, bmylar@ksat.com
Published On: Jul 08 2013 06:32:46 PM CDT   Updated On: Jul 08 2013 09:50:27 PM CDT

Money was taken from the paychecks of dozens of City of San Antonio employees after they were erroneously listed as tobacco users and an extra fee was assessed.

One such worker, who did not want to be identified, emailed the KSAT Defenders to complain that the city will not refund the money.

He wrote that the error occurred after he took no action to change information during his benefits enrollment process with the city at the end of 2012.

He wrote that he “was told if I left it alone and didn't want to make changes it would default to what I had the prior year.”

He did that and was counted as a tobacco user and money was taken from his pay.

The city confirmed there is no refund. He went on to write, “I personally feel like this money was stolen from me because I made an error.”

Chief Human Resources Officer Joe Angelo said the city charges tobacco users $40 per month extra because they use health care services more than non-tobacco users.

"The problem is that the tobacco users have a higher incidence of the medical claim experience," Angelo said.

He said if employees do not fill out their benefit enrollment forms online or on paper, the default is that they are a tobacco user.

"The employee is assumed to be a smoker to begin with," Angelo said.

An employee can certify they are not a tobacco user and avoid the fee by going online or filling out paperwork.

A KSAT Defenders investigation found there were 287 tobacco users as of Jan. 1, 2013 and only 237 as of March 31, 2013.

A total of 47 people contacted the city to say they were wrongly listed as a tobacco user.

Angelo said the city made numerous attempts to contact the employees who failed to answer the tobacco question, including by email and in person.

He said some still failed to answer. "This is just another policy where we require the employee to actively participate in their benefits plan,” Angelo said.

The total amount of money erroneously taken from employees has not been calculated.

But employees are now on that that because the city assumes employees use tobacco, their failure to fill out their benefits forms can cost $40 a month.

For a list of recent stories Brian Mylar has done, click here.