Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

August 24, 2013

joint effort

Wellness clinic aims to lower costs, health risks

By Lindsey Ziliak Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Eastern Howard and Northwestern schools teamed up to launch an employee wellness clinic in hopes that it will keep health care costs for both districts from rising out of control.

They are among a growing number of districts statewide turning to the clinics to curtail ever-increasing insurance premiums.

On average, premiums rise 15 to 18 percent every year, Eastern Howard School Corp. Superintendent Tracy Caddell said.

“We’re trying to keep health care costs stable,” he said.

The clinic opened in May for any employees who get health insurance through either of the districts.

A doctor and nurse treat common illnesses, help patients manage chronic conditions, run some labs and tests and teach employees how to live healthier lifestyles.

Every appointment is set for at least 20 minutes so the doctor has time to talk to patients and work with them to treat or prevent illnesses and diseases — even if that wasn’t the reason they initially came in, Caddell said.

The districts are offering financial incentives to get their employees to use it.

There are no copays for using the clinic, labs are free and generic prescriptions are free.

“It’s a nice benefit for our employees,” Caddell said. “You don’t have to walk into the doctor’s office with a checkbook. How often does that happen?”

The districts aren’t trying to replace the primary care physicians that staff members already have.

The clinic is there as a supplement, said Northwestern School Corp. Superintendent Ryan Snoddy.

Even with the financial incentives for employees, the clinic is expected to save Eastern and Northwestern money.

Neither superintendent had projections for exactly how much it was supposed to save, but if the clinic is used at least 65 percent of the time it is open, the districts will break even.

The districts’ insurance consortiums are billed for the labs and prescription drugs at negotiated lower rates, Caddell said.

Then the districts don’t have to turn any of the clinic visits or procedures in as claims to the insurance company.

The fewer claims the districts have, the lower their premiums will likely be.

Caddell said it’s more cost effective to pay for the labs and prescriptions up front than it is to pay for the higher premiums later.

And the idea is the clinic will save the districts even more money in the years to come by helping employees lead healthier lifestyles, Caddell said. Caddell hopes the districts can avoid larger claims for serious medical issues like heart attacks or strokes.

These savings are contingent upon employees using the clinic, though.

A 2012 study released by the Center for Studying Health System Change noted use of these kinds clinics remained low through 2010.

Only 4 percent of Americans in 2010 reported using an employee clinic in the previous year — a number that hadn’t changed since 2007.

Those who did use a clinic often only went there for routine services.

According to the study, 63.7 percent of survey respondents in 2010 said they went to a clinic to get vaccinations.

Fewer than one in 10 clinic users cited ongoing care for chronic conditions as the primary reason for their visit, the study states.

Northwestern and Eastern haven’t yet studied why employees are using their clinic, but officials know they are.

“The success has been phenomenal,” Snoddy said. “Every Wednesday it’s been 100 percent utilized.”

The superintendents will monitor usage every three months to decide if hours need to be expanded or reduced.

And at some point, they will have to decide whether they will keep the clinic going beyond the two-year pilot.

Caddell hopes the districts can keep it going and even expand it to include more employees.

“The clinic is the next step in providing services to our staff,” he said. “Eventually we’d like to see it available to our non-certified staff who aren’t eligible for insurance.”

Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at lindsey.ziliak@kokomotribune.com.