The state is narrowing down the list of companies looking to build a new low-cost primary-care clinic for state employees. Governor Brian Schweitzer began the push for such a health clinic in Helena earlier this year. He wants to have it open by the end of the summer, hoping to then expand the idea statewide. The Governor’s Office says this Helena clinic would keep state employees healthier while saving millions of dollars. But how many of these employees would actually use it?
The Governor’s health clinic would offer primary care services to about 11-thousand state government employees and their dependents in the Helena area. Employees like Jared Yates, who runs the quick copy center in the basement of the capitol building, his gray hair back in a pony-tail. He’s a healthy, 54 year old guy. But he says his wife has some serious health issues.
“And it seems like every time she goes to the Doctor they do the same three or four tests over and over and over,” he said, and he has to pay for it over and over and over.
That’s a major thing this state employee clinic would try to eliminate. The Governor’s Office says many hospitals pay their doctors based on the number of services or tests they administer. The health clinic would pay staff salaries. In theory, the clinic would not have any incentives to order extra tests for patients. Governor Schweitzer’s Health and Families Policy Advisor Jessica Rhoades says employees would see reduced copays or no copays at all for their primary care. She thinks that will create a lot of interest.
“We estimate 35 percent of employees would use the clinic in the first year and then that would increase as people became familiar as they knew what it was about and they saw some of the benefits,” she said, calling that a conservative estimate.
If that does happen, if 35 percent of employees come in, figures from the State Department of Administration show the clinic roughly paying for itself in the first year.
These same figures show the state saving $9 million dollars over 5 years if more employees continue coming in.The state has narrowed down to three companies vying to set up and operate this clinic. Two of those three companies are more optimistic than the Governor’s office in how quickly employees would embrace the clinic. But the third company, the Helena-based Cooperative Health Clinic, predicts only 13 percent of employees would use the clinic in the first year.
Jessica Rhoades says even at those lower percentages, providing a low-cost health option that focuses on preventive care would still be worth it.
“If you prevent even a few people from having a heart attack down the road that’s hundreds of thousands of dollars right there,” she said.
63-three-year-old Mary Henne works as a paralegal in the attorney general’s office. She says she would definitely use the health center.
“My regular doctor is not around, she’s is White Sulphur Springs, and if they have clinic with regular medical doctors that they can get to know your history, I think that would beneficial,” she said.
Quick Copy Supervisor Jared Yates says he will probably use the state employee clinic if it opens this year–if it will save him money. Overall, though, he says he is pretty leery of it.
The idea of setting up a health center exclusively for state employees makes him uncomfortable. He says it sends the wrong image.
“I think that kind of might set a bad example for the general public especially when you think there’s a lot of people out there in the real world who don’t have health insurance,” he said.
Yates says he would much rather see a pay raise or better coverage with his current insurance plan.