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Yes, the willfully unvaccinated should pay a price

But not out-of-pocket for hospitalization, as one legislator has proposed. Instead, employers could charge more for health insurance.

Anti-vaccine protesters in New York’s Times Square on Sunday.
Anti-vaccine protesters in New York’s Times Square on Sunday.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Like a lot of other people, we’re out of patience with the willfully unvaccinated.

A safe, highly effective vaccine has been available for months. Yet some still refuse, for no discernible reason other than mulish stubbornness, to get the shot and protect themselves and others around them.

So we fully understand the frustration of state Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook, who on Monday introduced legislation that would amend the state’s insurance code and require people who remain unvaccinated, by choice, to pay their hospitalization costs out of pocket if they contract COVID-19.

With infections on the rise and tens of millions of people in poor countries begging for vaccines, it’s hard to read Carroll’s proposal and not think, “Good. Let ‘em pay.”

Our patience has worn thin. But not that thin — yet.

The willfully unvaccinated undoubtedly drive up health care costs: Between June through August this year, preventable hospitalization costs for the unvaccinated reached $5.7 billion, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But forcing the unvaccinated to pay for hospitalization on their own is a bad idea, as well as a violation of the Affordable Care Act.

For one, no desperately sick person should have to risk access to life-saving medical treatment because they cannot afford it.

Second, it’s a slippery slope: First, it’s the unvaccinated paying their own hospital costs. Next, it’s requiring smokers who refuse to quit to pay for their own lung cancer treatment. Or the overweight paying out-of-pocket for knee replacement because excess weight wore down their joints.

Where does it end?

Under the Affordable Care Act and other federal law, “Plans and issuers may not discriminate in eligibility for benefits or coverage based on whether or not an individual obtains a COVID-19 vaccination,” according to an October bulletin from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

But employers can charge the unvaccinated more for their health insurance, as NPR Illinois reports. They should. Delta Airlines has begun doing so. And MercyHealth, based in Wisconsin and with three hospitals in Illinois, has begun deducting a $60 monthly “risk pool fee” from the pay of unvaccinated employees,

It is entirely fair to charge those who are medically able to get vaccinated, but choose not to, more for their health care.

A personal choice — which the unvaccinated claim they’re making — leads to personal responsibility.

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