Governor proposes state employee health clinics

Governor Brian Schweitzer (D) unveiling state health clinic proposal Thursday

Governor Brian Schweitzer is proposing a new kind of health clinic for state employees.

It’s an effort to save the state government money while providing better care.

 “It’s clear the most rapid rising cost of running this government is providing the healthcare for our employees,” Schweitzer said. His ideas are just in the beginning stages.

There are about 16,000 current or retired state employees getting their insurance from the state government. That number is almost 34,000 if you include employee families.

These primary care clinics would be contracted with the state, for the state.

“If you work for the state of Montana, you walk into one of these clinics that are owned or franchised by the state of Montana and you get your healthcare delivered to you. There’s no benefit for that healthcare provider to give you multiple tests. Their job is a positive outcome,” Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer says he’d like to see a state clinic open in Helena and then expand the program across Montana. He says it would start with state employees and allow federal programs like Medicaid and Indian Health Services to opt in. The Montana University System could then follow. He says absolutely yes, this is government run healthcare—but that’s what these employees already have.

“It’s just that we’re paying too much and getting too few services. You can’t be more government than being a government employee and getting the cost of your health insurance paid by the government,” he said, adding he does not need approval of the legislature for this idea, since it would be using money already set aside for the health of these employees.

He predicts the clinics could save the state about a million dollars in their first year. He says the employees would be saving money too.

The idea gets firm support from Montana’s largest employee union, the MEA-MFT.

“Obviously that’s of concern to state employees who have seen their salaries frozen going on 4 years. In fact the Governor’s trying to address that concern,” said President Eric Feaver.

Republican State Senator Art Wittich serves on the Children, Families, Health and Human Services Interim Committee. He says this would be a big change and needs to be examined very closely with plenty of input from the affected employees. But he’s interested.

“We’re all trying to work on how we can save healthcare costs. So we should at least look at it and see if it can achieve what the governor thinks it can,” he said.

Schweitzer wouldn’t elaborate on who all would be supportive of the plan. But he said what he can’t find is support for the status quo.

“I can’t find anybody in Montana that agrees allowing healthcare costs to increase at a rate of 6 to 10 percent a year is acceptable,” Schweitzer said. “Not for their family, not for their business and certainly not for the business of state government.”

The state is asking for bids to start the project now. Schweitzer expects proposals from interested parties within 45 days. His office says state employees could see the first clinic open as early as the end of the year.

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