Pasco mulls expanding wellness clinics for school workers
LAND O' LAKES - Pasco County school district employees are making even greater use than anticipated of three onsite wellness clinics that opened last year, prompting the district to consider opening a fourth clinic. "Darn close to half of our insured employees have used the health center at least once," Mary Tillman, the district's director of employee benefits and risk management, told the school board at a workshop last week. "That's better utilization than I think anyone expected." More than a year ago the school board contracted with CareHere, a Tennessee company, to operate the clinics and provide services such as workers' compensation, drug and alcohol testing, primary care, specialist care, allergy shots and health screenings. The goal is to save money in the long run by reducing employee health care costs.Medical claims through the school district's health insurance were 5 percent lower in 2011 than they were in 2010, the district reported, dropping to an average of $2.9 million a month from slightly more than $3 million a month in 2010. The average monthly savings was $155,760. "I was impressed ours went down 5 percent when the national average is going up 7 or 8 percent," board Chairwoman Joanne Hurley said. The district doesn't have numbers yet on workers' compensation, but Tillman said she anticipates savings there as well. The first clinic opened at district headquarters in Land O' Lakes in January 2011 and 81 employees visited the first month. The second clinic at Gulf High School opened a month later and the third at Centennial Middle School opened the month after that. By the end of the year, the three clinics handled a combined average of 2,194 appointments a month. "Our utilization's been out the roof," said Jason Tomlinson, director of Florida operations for CareHere. In all, 3,623 employees visited the clinics at least once in 2011. About 8,000 employees are signed up for health insurance through the school district, and about 1,200 of those employees also insure a dependent through the plan. One of the incentives for employees to use the on-site clinics is they can avoid out-of-pocket expenses that they might incur at other doctors' offices. There's also the convenience for employees who work near one of the clinics. Use of the facilities is optional. Employees can stick with their primary care doctors if they prefer. Savings come in several ways. Group health insurance usually is handled with a fee-for-services model. The more services the doctor provides during a visit, the greater the bill to the insurance company. Those costs eventually are passed along to the employer and employees. With CareHere, the school district is paying a flat fee for the service. In addition, when a clinic is at or near the workplace, employees spend less time away from the job for an appointment. Savings also happen when patients avoid high-priced medicines by using the mostly generic products available in the clinics' pharmacies. CareHere determined which medicines to offer in the pharmacies by reviewing the health histories of school employees. Women are more likely to visit the clinics than men, in part because of a large percentage of the insured employees of the school district are women, Tomlinson said. Still, men adapt well to this model of health care delivery, he said. The proximity of the clinics and the reduced costs help prompt men to pay a visit. The clinics often see men who haven't visited a doctor in several years, Tomlinson said. That also can add to the savings, he said, because health care costs can be reduced significantly if serious problems are detected early. Tillman said the district is reviewing the possibility of opening a fourth clinic in the Hudson area.
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