Kerry Drake knows, perhaps better than most, the challenges businesses face when it comes to employee health care.
As an employer and president of employee benefits at BXS Insurance, Drake has long been trying to bust the rising health care cost curve for his company. And as a business insurance broker, Drake works with other employers dealing with the same challenges.
“With the environment we’re in, employers are paying too much and getting less,” he says. “They’re unsatisfied with the status quo. All employers are struggling with health care cost, access and value.”
In search of a solution, Drake began looking into a trend larger employers are adopting—worksite health clinics. The strategy has grown increasingly popular among major companies nationwide, allowing them to take control of their health care destiny, reduce costs and boost employee health engagement—with research and results to back it up.
The only problem: Companies need a workforce of at least 1,000 for an on-site clinic to make sense, Drake says. And his own company, with about 160 employees in Baton Rouge, falls far below that threshold.
But what if BXS were to partner with nearby employers, who, combined, would have enough employees to make a near-site clinic work? Situated in the United Plaza office park off Essen Lane, Drake’s office neighbors some of the largest companies in Baton Rouge, including Turner Industries and Excel Group, both of which had been interested in finding a new way to solve the health insurance crisis.
The companies held their first meeting in mid-July to discuss the idea of a joint clinic, with the help of Baton Rouge General, which owns a rehab facility in the United Plaza office park that could make for an ideal site for an employer clinic. But discussions are still ongoing and such details have yet to be decided.
“It’s still a work in progress,” says Dan Burke, director of corporate benefits at Turner. “What’s attractive to us is that it would be a collaborative with several employers, not something would have to embark on by ourselves.”
What the employers are looking for, Burke says, is a way to better manage costs of their self-insure medical plans. They want to divert care from high-cost venues like urgent care or emergency rooms to on-site clinics, as well as make the experience more convenient for employees, with less downtime and fewer barriers.
Providing employees with access to a quality, affordable clinic near the workplace is not only smart from a cost perspective but also a great benefit to attract and retain staff, says Excel Vice President of Human Resources Lauren Champagne.
“For employees with chronic conditions, this empowers them to stay on top of it without interfering with productivity,” Champagne says. “Convenience is one thing, but having access to quality care is another—with this you’re getting both.”
A third of companies with more than 5,000 employees now offer worksite medical clinics, representing a 10% increase over the past five years, according to a 2017 survey conducted by consulting firm Mercer and the National Association of Worksite Health Centers. These companies include major names like Apple and Amazon.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana has seen a growing number of businesses either setting up near-site clinics or inquiring about them, says lead medical director Dr. Dee Barfield. BCBS recently began offering its employees access to an onsite nurse, she adds, though it’s too soon to see any results.
The concept is an outgrowth of wellness programs and health fairs that employers have long participated in, Barfield says. And those efforts have seen results in terms of identifying chronic conditions like diabetes and encouraging screenings. Worksite clinics now seem to be the logical next step for some companies.
“We believe these clinics will increase access to care, reduce costs and improve quality,” Barfield says. “They are helpful for some aspects of preventive care, like flu and other vaccinations. They may reduce employee absenteeism. I think employers hope they will improve employee loyalty, because they’re meeting some of the employee’s most important needs.”
What the trio of Baton Rouge companies want to do is recreate those benefits, but with a slightly different strategy.
“The question is can we duplicate the success of a single-employer on-site clinic in a multiple-employer, near-site clinic?” Drake says. “I don’t know the answer yet. That’s the whole purpose of what we’re trying to do.”
Baton Rouge General is a key part of the experiment. While it conveniently owns a clinic near the employers, the hospital also has a history of working with businesses to find solutions to their health care needs, says Paul Douglas, vice president of human resources and strategy. Baton Rouge General also has had its own on-site clinic for employees for more than 10 years.
“We work with several different employers in town on various types of solutions—anything from comprehensive care, health coaching, biometric screening, blood pressure checks,” Douglas says. “In this case, it’s an on-site or near-site clinic. … It’s a natural fit when you talk to employers who have common concerns.”
Because worksite clinics work around the patient’s schedule, rather than the provider’s schedule, he says, they provider quicker and more efficient care for employees.
Although the employers at United Plaza haven’t determined many details yet, like funding, Douglas says there are various ways that companies pay for on-site clinics. The preferred method is called a “capitated clinic,” which refers to a subscription fee companies pay per month so all employees have unlimited, paid access.
Drake expects the costs to be much lower, though, than what his business pays now. Based on his research, a visit to an onsite clinic is expected to cost half of what a visit to a traditional primary care provider would cost—about $100 to $120 per visit.
And reduced costs are not only good for employers, but also their employees. Plus, having a health clinic on-site is seen as a significant workplace perk.
“From the employee side, they can walk downstairs, see a clinician and pick up their prescription,” Drake says. “It’s a great perk, no problems with access, no cost. From the employer side, they don’t have to take off work. Everything works.”
The three local employers caution, however, that the whole idea is still in early phases, with no guarantee the near-site clinic will actually come to fruition. At the first meeting in June, there were a lot of questions, Drake says, but it ended on a positive note.
“Everyone came away saying, ‘O.K., this could work,” he says. “We have almost all the things necessary, the ingredients, to start the conversation.”