Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs School Board on Monday night voted unanimously to move forward with a plan to open a health care clinic before the start of next school year.
Superintendent Brad Meeks will sign a one-year contract with Healthstat Inc., a Charlotte, N.C.-based company, to set up and manage a health and wellness clinic in the George P. Sauer Human Services Center. The clinic will be open to insured district employees and their dependents as soon as July 1. According to the contract, the clinic will be open 20 hours per week and staffed by a local physician’s assistant who can administer strep tests, draw blood, take a patient’s biometrics and prescribe about 40 common prescription drugs.
School Board members praised the proposal, but two local doctors who attended Monday’s meeting were skeptical of the clinic the district is opening to try and reduce its health insurance premiums that have grown dramatically in recent years.
“The primary doctors are going to be the people who will be hurt by this deal,” Steamboat pediatrician Ron Famiglietti told the board before they voted to approve the clinic. “This is not a win-win situation.”
Famiglietti questioned the district’s move to pay an out-of-state company to manage the clinic and said the clinic could hurt local health care providers by competing for primary care patients.
Members of the local health care community including Yampa Valley Medical Center CEO Frank May and doctors Brian Harrington and David Niedermeier met several times with school district officials in the weeks leading up to Monday’s vote to discuss their desire to work locally with the school district and other businesses and organizations to reduce their health care costs.
But without a concrete proposal to consider from the local medical community yet, school district officials said they couldn’t wait and pass on their plan to open the clinic and reduce insurance costs.
“I’m glad local doctors are trying to do something to help address the increasing costs (of health insurance), and if they have ideas, we’re open to them,” Meeks said after Monday’s meeting. “But there’s a sense that it is not going to happen for several months.”
The School Board challenged the local health care providers who have expressed concern about the clinic to develop a proposal that ultimately could be a better solution.
Meanwhile, Meeks said the Healthstat clinic already is getting a positive reaction from insurance companies.
He told the School Board that the district’s bids to insurance companies for coverage next school year are generally 5 to 7 percent lower with the clinic than without it. He added that the combination of the clinic and a proposal to reduce the number of health insurance options for district employees from four to two ultimately allowed the district to receive health insurance renewal rate offers for the 2012-13 school year that are lower than the $1.5 million rate the district is paying this school year.
Meeks added that the district hopes to have the clinic, which will cost $289,000 to start, open in July and paid for by health insurance savings.
School district employees who want to utilize the new facility will see the physician’s assistant for an initial health assessment. To establish the employee’s baseline health, the clinician will collect such data as their cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose levels, according to the contract with Healthstat.
Meeks acknowledged that the district doesn’t know yet whether the clinic will result in the $467,000 worth of savings in three years that Healthstat projects it will, but he said the one thing he knows for certain is the district’s current health insurance system isn’t working.
“I think this is an opportunity for the district to take a different approach to health care and control our escalating costs,” he said.
School Board President Brian Kelly agreed.
“This is worth a shot,” he said about the clinic. “If we look at it in a year or two and it’s not working the way we think it will, it needs to be revisited. But if it does work out, we can keep more teachers in the classroom (with the savings) and do a better job for our students.”
The proposal also was supported by Babette Dickson, president of the school district’s teachers’ union.
“We’re ready to embrace everything that can save our health care costs and make insurance affordable again,” she said.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com