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An employee publication of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
November/December 2011

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New state law increases premiums for tobacco users, offers cessation drugs

cost of smoking graphicTo motivate and encourage members of the Employees Retirement System (ERS) to lead longer, healthier lives, and to help control healthcare costs, the Legislature recently moved to increase health insurance premiums for staff and covered dependents that use tobacco. For those who choose to continue using tobacco, these higher premiums will go into effect on January 1, 2012, and range from $30 to $90 per month, depending on the number of covered tobacco users.

To help ease the transition to tobacco-free living, ERS members can acquire tobacco cessation drugs with a doctor's prescription for the cost of a copay.
Tobacco users must officially declare that they or their covered dependents use tobacco products. A tobacco user is someone who has used a tobacco product more than five times in the previous three months. Those who use tobacco, but don't certify that they do, run the risk of investigation and penalty, including termination from health insurance. Any ERS member who fails to provide accurate information will be charged the tobacco-user premium for the entire time they are employed by the state during the period the increased premiums were in effect.

Tobacco users can declare their status with a toll-free call to ERS at (877) 275-4377 or sign into their retirement account at to complete the online certification form, or print it out for completion and mailing to ERS.

Those who quit using tobacco for three consecutive months can change their designation by completing an affidavit attesting to their tobacco-free status.

ERS members who do not use tobacco products, and have no covered dependents who do, need not take any action. After the initial certification period, if a member or covered family member starts using tobacco, or if it's learned that a covered family member uses tobacco, the ERS must be notified at that time. No other action is required.

When asked to discuss the reason for new policy, Jan Thornton, TDCJ Human Resources Division director, replied, "The Legislature clearly intended to achieve two important goals: to reduce state health care costs and improve employees' overall health. Affected employees are encouraged to ask their doctor about tobacco cessation drugs, some of which are covered as of September 1, 2011."

More information about the ERS tobacco cessation program can be found at


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Employee assistance available for dealing with holiday stress

clipart photo of woman calling on phoneThe holidays can be fun, but they can also be a source of stress. Financial pressures, holiday travel and family conflict can sometimes turn a happy time of year into a time of anger or depression.

The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a work benefit designed to help Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) employees and their families though emotionally difficult times. With licensed and certified counselors available 24 hours a day, EAP can help with many issues including depression, anxiety, anger and grief. By coordinating with health care providers and medical insurance associates, the EAP can help create an appropriate and effective treatment plan.

The EAP is administered by a private, nonprofit agency separate from TDCJ, so communications are completely confidential and no information is shared with agency staff or co-workers.

As a TDCJ employee, you don't have to face emotional problems alone. Help is a phone call away. EAP counselors can be reached by calling 1-886-832-5927.


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