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School board receptive to on-site clinics concept

By Staff | Dec 6, 2011

The Lee County school board is as aware as anyone about how health care costs have cut into its bottom line, and after years of talking about it, it

seems ready to really tackle the issue head on.

Thus the reason the board hosted a self-insured health plan and employee clinic informational workshop on Tuesday to crunch the numbers and find

ways to help the system cut down on the 9 percent annual increases they pay out in health premiums yearly, numbers they know won’t go down.

But while the board was in unanimous agreement of a system where employees could go to a dedicated clinic – a plan that has worked well in other

districts such as Charlotte County – that doesn’t mean it didn’t have questions on how it would be paid for or how their workers would even know about

it.

The workshop featured a background on the health plan, an overview of initial information gathering from the April workshop on the same topic, the

request for information (RFI) and that information gained from that and a discussion on what steps could be taken.

“Health care in the nation continues to be something employers struggle with as costs trend up,” said Chief Human Resource Officer Gregory Adkins.

“We need to do something different than the same old same old.”

The idea of containing costs has been championed for some time, but there is only so much that can be accomplished through fewer jobs, which is what

the Powerpoint presentation showed, that premiums remained flat from 2007-2011 only from a decrease in employees, thus fewer claims.

After a lengthy summation of the numbers, which left some on the panel lost at times since it was the first time they laid eyes on it, they finally got to

the nitty gritty of how the system, which pays the bulk of the sum of employee health care, could save in health costs by a dedicated facility (or

facilities) that employees can utilize.

Bonnie McFarland, who hosted the presentation, alluded that savings on health care was partially up to the employee, in that they need to take better

care of themselves in order to reduce claims and save money through a healthy lifeatyle and addressing health concerns early.

“The least expensive claim is the one that never happens, but that’s not reality,” McFarland said. “The next step is to treat the risk factors. It’s easier to

treat the risk factors of disease than the disease.”

Adkins noted that it’s cheaper to treat a person with diabetes or is a pre-diabetic than the consequences if they don’t.

“If a diabetic needs an amputation or dialysis, one claim can be $1 million,” Adkins said. “We can prevent this claim from happening if we focus on

making them healthier.”

McFarland presented numbers that showed a clinic system could reduce the 9 percent annual cost trend to 4 percent, which could save the

system about $2 million annually, and that smaller counties such as Charlotte and St. Johns (in Northern Florida) have already experienced tremendous

savings.

“If we do nothing, we’re sitting on 9 percent and our costs will keep going up,” McFarland said.

For those on the board, the idea of an employee clinic was received with a unanimous “Where have you been all my life,” especially from vice

chairperson and District 2 member Jeanne Dozier, who said she’s tired of all the posturing and ready for action.

“The trend nationally is for districts to look at clinics to reduce costs. I’ve been on this for five years. The time has come to fish or cut bait and I’m ready

to fish,” Dozier said.

The problem could be that, while Charlotte has realized success with the clinics, it is also a small fraction of the size of Lee County, which would mean it

would need more than one clinic, perhaps as many as four, according to the findings, to accomodate all employees, especially to the east and west. That

means money and figuring out where it would come from.

The board members expressed the desire of having at least two, maybe four, but all wondered how it would be done.

“I’m in favor of the concept, But I need to think about budget and it could take two or three years before there’s any cost savings for the concept, said

Jane Kuckel, District 3 board member, suggesting that piggybacking with Lee Memorial Health System, which has four clinics themselves for its

employees, was worth looking into. “I’m more comfortable with two clinics.”

Other issues included how to communicate to employees these services will be available and if the clinics mean having to give up their primary

physicians.

“My biggest concern was getting employees to utilize the clinics. They asked if they had to give up their PCP,” said Mark Castellano, president of the

Teachers Association of Lee County. “How many are willing to do that. And how many don’t even have PCPs.”

“Teachers and staff are overwhelmed. They don’t have time to read. They’ll just delete e-mails like I do,” Dozier said. “We must find more ways to market

this.”

Despite the concerns, the consensus was “What are you waiting for.”

“It’s not like we’re in unexplored territory. I have no problem pushing onward and quickly. Spending five more minutes doing nothing is crazy,” said

District 5 boardmember Thomas Scott. “If we wait it will cost more.”

“What’s the downside? It’s difficult to get one,” Dozier said. “It’s one-stop shopping for us and we don’t have to eliminate our own doctor.”