The cubicle clinic

Marketplace Staff Jan 12, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: So there is a bug that has been going around our office for a couple of weeks. Either nobody here has enough sense to stay home when they are sick or it’s too much of a hassle to take time off to visit the doctor’s office. It shouldn’t surprise you that that delayed approach to health care is one of the reasons insurance premiums are rising so fast. And it’s driving a new trend in corporate America, more and more companies are bringing health care in-house. Think of it as the clinic next to your cubicle. Marketplace’s Sam Eaton reports.

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SAM EATON: Taking the elevator down to the basement of Harrah’s Lake Tahoe Casino is an exercise in contrasts, below the whirling slot machines and smokey bars are the white washed halls of the medical clinic that’s still less than a year old.

DR. WILLIAM EVERRET: Good, she’s H-negative — do a CBC and CNP on her please.

With about 3800 Harrah’s employees to look after. Doctor William Everret’s (PH) has his hands full. He says most of the casino workers rarely saw a doctor before the clinic opened. They just didn’t have the time. Steve Montiverde (PH) says that’s no longer an excuse.

STEVE MONTIVERDE: Oh, I’ve been here 20 minutes. I’m on my lunch break and I’ll go back up when I’m done.

Back to the slot department where Montiverde has worked for 15 years the difference now is that he didn’t have to take time off to see his regular doctor for something as minor as an irritated eye.

MONTIVERDE: My doctor, it’s hare to get into. So it takes weeks possibly a month to get in there to see him and he’s only there three days a week. So this makes it more convenient.

Not just convenient, cheaper too. Harrah saves anywhere from five to fifteen percent in medical costs by treating Montiverde in-house. But doctor Everret says the real savings come from prevention. The clinic recently held a voluntary health screening fair to check employees for preventable diseases.

EVERRET: Five hundred thirty five people participated in that. Of the 535 people, there were only 105 normals.

The rest were positive for early signs of Diabetes, high-blood pressure, and thyroid and liver problems. Everret says helping people address those issues now is about more than just the bottom line.

EVERRET: It’s like taking the herd that’s ready to run over the cliff and they are far enough back and we can change their course and keep them viable members of the community.

But altruism isn’t the reason more and more companies are embracing onsite clinics. Kirby Bosley is a corporate healthcare consultant with Watson Wyatt worldwide. She says the economics of businesses taking healthcare into their own hands is only improving.

KIRBY BOSLEY: As healthcare costs have increased. The cost of running an onsite clinic proportionately has decreased. And so suddenly there is cost viability for putting this onsite.

Bosley predicts 30 percent of fortune 1,000 companies will have some form of onsite healthcare by the end of the year. That’s up from about 22 percent in 2006. She says before that the sector was so small her firm didn’t even think to track it.

BOSLEY: We’ve gone through a period of many years where employers in general have said to themselves and others it’s my insurance companies responsibility to fix this problem. And what were at a critical point where CFO’s, board members, comp. committees are looking at healthcare costs and saying are we really getting any return on this investment.

That’s drawing big name converts like FedEx, Capital One Financial, Freddy Mac, and Sprint into the fold. But rather than take on the risk of managing a health clinic themselves corporations are hiring outside firms like Whole Health Management to run them. The results says, Whole Health CEO, James Hummer is a trend that could redefine corporate healthcare.

JAMES HUMMER: This is really taking the current healthcare system and realigning the interests.

Interests that are usually more focused on processing payments and insurance claims then on maintaining the patient’s health.

HUMMER: Our belief from the very beginning has been that you can not manage health care costs until you begin to manage health.

Hummer says it’s simple economics catching someone early for heart disease is much cheaper than paying for open heart surgery.

In South Lake Tahoe, I’m Sam Eaton for Marketplace Money.

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