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JFC approves surcharge for smokers, 'double dipping" measure,

MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - State government employees are one step closer to paying more for their health insurance if they smoke.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted 13-to-3 Tuesday to make smokers pay a $50 surcharge per month for their health coverage.

Employees who are caught lying would be hit with an extra surcharge – but they would not lose their insurance, as Governor Scott Walker originally proposed.

The Republican governor says the fee is needed because health care costs run about 35-percent more for smokers than non-smokers.

The American Cancer Society and Lung Association have opposed higher insurance premiums for smokers, saying they’re not all that effective in getting people to quit.

A dozen other states have the extra fees. Also, the finance panel voted 12-to-4 to stop public employees from double-dipping – getting both a pension and a paycheck by retiring and later returning.

All Republicans voted for the tighter restrictions, while all Democrats voted no.

Supporters of the concept say experienced retirees are needed until new people can take their places.

Republicans cried foul two years ago when a former U-W Green Bay official made a deal with his bosses to return, after he joined others in retiring out of fear that Governor Walker would cut their retirement benefits.

Retirees would have to wait 75 days to return instead of the current 30.

Those working two-thirds’ time must pay into the retirement system again instead of drawing from it. The finance committee also voted to make state-and-local governments offer tax-free health savings accounts coupled with a high-deductible insurance plan.

An actuarial study would be done first, to make sure that overall health costs do not go higher.

If approved, the option would begin in 2015.