Steamboat School Board to vote on health clinic proposal Monday

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By the numbers

Steamboat Springs School District’s annual health insurance costs

■ 2007-08: $1,078,660

■ 2008-09: $1,401,969

■ 2009-10: $1,398,553

■ 2010-11: $1,126,831

■ 2011-12: $1,530,860

Source: Steamboat Springs School District

Past Event

Steamboat Springs School Board workshop

  • Monday, March 26, 2012, 5:30 p.m.
  • George P. Sauer Human Services Center, 325 Seventh St., Steamboat Springs
  • Not available

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— Steamboat Springs School District officials are hoping to convert 300 square feet of space in the George P. Sauer Human Services Center into a wellness clinic they say could save the district hundreds of thousands of dollars on health insurance premiums.

District Superintendent Brad Meeks said the proposal is one of several steps the district plans to take to rein in the amount they spend on health care, which grew by 36 percent this school year compared with 2010-11. The district is spending about $1.5 million on health care this school year to insure about 450 district employees and dependents, according to Finance Director Dale Mellor. It spent about $1 million for health care costs in the 2007-08 school year.

“We’re trying to reduce our (insurance) claims any way we can,” Meeks said. “If we can get our employees to go to this new wellness clinic to treat episodic illnesses like runny noses and sore throats, that helps us out in terms of health insurance.”

Human Resource Director Judy Harris said the school district in the past has attempted to reduce its health care costs by utilizing such things as wellness fairs, a Weight Watchers at work program and discounted gym memberships for employees.

“All of those things help, but we’ve been in an era of increased medical costs,” she said. “Over the last few years, we’ve gone from being able to cover all of an individual employee’s insurance coverage to only being able to cover part of it.”

Meeks said he envisions the clinic will help to significantly lower insurance costs in the district. He said the new facility will be staffed by a local physician’s assistant capable of administering strep tests, drawing blood, taking a patient’s biometrics and prescribing about 40 common prescription drugs, among other things. He said the added benefit likely would be available to employees and their dependents at no cost if they are insured through the school district.

The clinic could take a big step Monday night toward becoming a reality when the Steamboat Springs School Board considers whether to approve a contract with Healthstat, a Charlotte, N.C.-based company that would start and manage the clinic before the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.

As the proposal continues to move forward, it is drawing the attention of physicians in Steamboat, some of whom have expressed concerns about bringing in an out-of-state company to manage the clinic.

Local solutions

Dr. Brian Harrington, a family physician with Yampa Valley Medical Associates, said Thursday that he and a small group of local health care providers, including new Yampa Valley Medical Center Chief Operating Officer Frank May, have met with Meeks and school district officials since the clinic was announced last month. Harrington said the district’s proposal for the clinic has served as a motivator for local physicians to move forward in developing a system that would accomplish a mutual goal: making health care more affordable and effective in Steamboat.

“Everybody is struggling, and everyone is seeing high premium rises, so I am understanding of everyone wanting to address those challenges,” Harrington said, adding that some physicians in Steamboat are exploring whether to form an independent practice association. “We have some concerns when an outside group is brought in to create a new clinic in our community when we already have clinic capacity here.”

Still, Harrington said he thinks the discussions with the school district have been beneficial for both sides.

“I think we all share most of the same goals, and the challenge is, how do we get together in a constructive way so that we can achieve our mutual goals? We are going to move forward with our plans, and hopefully down the road, we (and the school district) can meet,” Harrington said. “My vision and my hope is that 10 to 15 years from now, Steamboat is mentioned in a ‘60 Minutes’ segment or an Atlantic Monthly article that says, ‘Hey, look at this community in rural Colorado that got together to tackle their local health care needs with local providers and local solutions.’”

No time to wait

Before Harris gave a presentation to the School Board on Monday explaining how Healthstat would set up and manage the new clinic, she mentioned the intention and desire of some physicians in the local medical community to develop a partnership with the school district to lower insurance costs. But she said physicians have told the school district it would take several months to develop a proposal or create an independent practice association to do that. She said that may be too long of a wait.

“We have to find a way to start saving now,” she said.

She also mentioned that some physicians had expressed concerns that the clinic would compete with other local clinics for patients, but Harris said the district was sensitive to those concerns and did not see the clinic as something that would be in direct competition with the local medical community.

Instead, district officials hope that in addition to bringing down their health insurance costs, the new clinic will motivate employees who may not have seen a doctor regularly in the past to visit the clinic and have a baseline for their health established.

“I look at this clinic as an investment in our staff, and hopefully, it gets them in the habit of seeing a wellness professional more often,” Meeks said. “And hopefully, we get the financial benefit, and we can reinvest it back into our schools.”

Meeks said Thursday that the wait to find out how much health insurance will cost each year is often painful.

“Unfortunately, what you have to do every year is sit and hold your breath to see how much it’s going to cost,” he said. “And the frustrating thing right now is the cost is out of our control.”

Meeks said the new clinic will cost $264,000 annually to run, and Healthstat has projected the total net savings on the clinic after three years to be $467,000. The district also must spend money from its capital reserve fund to convert what is now janitorial storage into the clinic.

“We’re excited about the proposal, and we think it has a lot of potential,” Meeks said.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

babette dickson 2 years ago

“We have some concerns when an outside group is brought in to create a new clinic in our community when we already have clinic capacity here.”

A little too late. Competition is waking the medical community up. Until now Steamboat doctors and hospital enjoyed a very comfortable monopole. It took me over 6 hours out of my class room this week for me and my sons to seek health care, get penicillin, go to the pharmacy... I can't wait to use our school clinic where all of the above will take 30 minutes at practically $0.

Add to that when you want to walk-in without appointment, anywhere, they all consider you as annoying. I don't like this practice... With 2 or 3 exceptions, many doctors in Steamboat seem to have forgotten their oath, work for large profits on our back, and forgot the fact that they should be available 24/7 like my relatives in Europe who will get out of their bed at 11pm to visit their very sick patients... They are the True Hyppocrates' servants. Never really encountered any of those here. I support my district choice because it will serve 300 employees and their dependents exactly as expected, without taking us away from our students for hours and hours and hours....

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mark hartless 2 years ago

"...at practically $0." ??????????????? No wonder we have so many little einsteins comming out of our schools these days.

And, for a field trip, perhaps teachers and students could ride the "free" bus to Fantasyland.

Price is what you pay. Cost is what it costs.

Whenever those two numbers diverge, and I guarantee they do in this case, the difference is the amount the payers are sticking others with paying.

People used to be ashamed of that; today they are proud of it.

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babette dickson 2 years ago

Sir Hartless - Heartless - I hope - assume - You, your spouse, none of your kids, nephews, nieces, cousins...etc went to public schools... they must be a bunch of idiots! Indeed.

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babette dickson 2 years ago

Oh yes Heartless, your premium will then go up to grant me medical visits at "practically $0".... Epitome of Capitalism> I must love it.

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Clay Ogden 2 years ago

Babette ... with all due respect ... borrow the money & go back to school ... do your internship ... learn what it really takes to be a doctor. Start a practice and pay the bills ... then tell us about what it's REALLY like to be a health care professional with all of the regulation and risk that goes along with it.

I understand your frustration but your attitude speaks volumes about your ignorance as to what it takes to provide health care and who really takes home the money at the end of the day.

Health care, like public education, often seems broken and folks just love to poke at it. Just like public education (and, full disclosure, my wife is a teacher) it sure seems easy to blame the last person in line. Your rant against the local docs is just as misplaced as the typical rants against teachers. Simplistic and lacking in understanding of the larger issues of bureaucracy, entitlement, cost, revenue and productivity.

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Scott Ford 2 years ago

The vast majority of health issues we face are minor. Often we seek medical services to alleviate our fears that it is not something major and more importantly it can be treated quickly and we can feel better. Sometimes it is nice to have a medical professional confirms, "Yes, I understand why you feel rotten."

The concept being proposed works . It is a way for an employer to control health coverage cost. This is actually a form of managed care "lite." Healtstat is not a gatekeeper (yet), however, they will direct care and since the vast majority of what is needed is minor- most folks will not need more than what Healthstat offers.

In addition, improvements occur in chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and weight management when individuals see a health care processional easily, regularly and at little or no cost.

What the school district is doing is going to be viewed by the staff as a great thing and it will be successful and very likely it will help control the district's cost. This is a small town and there is a lot of overlap between college/city / county. The challenge is that other local government employees will want access to this type of health services as well. It will first be the college, followed by the city and lastly the county.

This may be the embryonic stage of something that may evolve into an HMO similar to a Kaiser Permanente model. Staffed by health care providers that are paid a salary and not a fee for services.

This is likely going to get a wee-bit nutty as this concept catches on but fun to watch. Who knows the way health care is accessed and delivered in Steamboat Springs could look very different in 5 to 7 years.

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mark hartless 2 years ago

Ms Dickson, I was born with a name that is easy for you to ridicule. I can't change my name. Nor am I ashamed of it. And don't think I haven't heard it all before. Knock yourself out. I can take it.

Like I said; People used to be ashamed of getting by on someone elses dime... Today they proudly take $$$ from others and when they are challenged their rebuttal often centers aroung ridiculing those who are compelled to fund their lifesyyle.

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Melanie Turek 2 years ago

I am not opposed to a clinic like this, if it will reign in costs and make it easier for teachers and staff, and their families, to get care. But one way to start saving money fast is to NOT go to the doctor for "runny noses and sore throats." In the vast majority of cases, there is nothing the doctor can do for you, and we all know, or should know, how bad the over-prescription of antibiotics is for us as individuals, and on a broader societal level. Very few otherwise healthy kids and adults need to see a doctor for a cold or flu, and studies are showing that even bacterial infections like strep will often resolve on their own, without antibiotics.

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jerry carlton 2 years ago

Melanie A second time we agree on something. Except strep. I had a good friend in Denver that had strep go into his kidneys and he was on dialysis the rest of his life. Also for some reason when I moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming {a very dry climate} from Houston Texas {a very wet climate} in the Air Force I was very prone to strep and had it multiple times. Living in the barracks might have had something to do with it. Any way, when I had it, it was a very nasty debilitating disease.

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babette dickson 2 years ago

Clay Ogden: I know too well about practicing medicine. My brother and stepfather are general practionners, one in Europe and one in Australia. In the family we also have 3 nurses, all in Europe. So I've observed the different systems, the work they all put in their profession, the income tax they pay (up to 60% in Europe)... It still does not explain why I would pay 30 Euros to see my generalist in Europe or Australia, but over $120 here. It does not explain why American doctors are no longer doing home visits, my relatives do...until 11pm on a regulat basis - at 30 euros per patient. However, many of them do not have the income of our American GP, I know it for a fact. So Mr Ogden, why don't we have a doctor in Steamboat, and I like many of them, who can be different that a medical bureaucrat 9 to 5pm... I just was raised with another human appreciation about health care, and I am determined to bring those views here.

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Kevin Nerney 2 years ago

Let me chime in here. Mark you talk about price and cost. How about value? Last week I found myself in the emergency room at the Hospital (a not for profit hospital mind you) with a severely swollen knee and barely able to walk. After an X-ray (I told them I didn't have an injury) an ace bandage and a set of crutches was told to go home and see an Orthopedic in the morning. Thank you very much for coming in and by the way you owe us $709.00. So yes I would have to agree with Babette.
P.S. I saw DR. Sisk the next day, he drained it gave it a shot and I was fine in two days. (haven't gotten a bill yet) but it will be worth it. the first $700. was not.

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mark hartless 2 years ago

I understand the value argument. I spent two (2) days in the hospital a few years ago and the bill was over $80,000.

What do you think europeans are getting in the way of "value" when they pay over $4 in tax on every gallon of gas? When they pay a 20% across-the-board tax on everything they buy?

If you had put $4 in a tin can for every gallon of gas you bought recently or $20 in the tin for every $100 you spent at a store, don't you think you would have put in more than enough to cover your emergency room visit?

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Kevin Nerney 2 years ago

Although we seem to be going towards a world economy I really don't care what the Europeans or anyone else pays for health care, taxes, food,etc. That's their business. My business consists of working for a living. It's bad enough the car repair shop thinks I can afford $80 per hour for labor, and truth be told if a doctor or dentist wants to charge150.00 an hour to help pay off his education or his lawyers fees (mine gets 300 an hour but that's another rip-off story for another time) then that is the price I would pay. BUT $709 for the privilege of sitting on a cot in a cold emergency room in a NON-Profit hospital is not reasonable or customary. That's$354.50 per hour and had there not been a car accident at the same time as I walked in I would have been out of there in less than 1/2 hour instead of 2 hours. Hell, I would have been happy to make 700 dollars a week, for the privilege of running into that Dr.s house and save her butt when the bldg was on fire.

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babette dickson 2 years ago

$900 for 2 hours to receive benadryl in the vein...

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mark hartless 2 years ago

I have often wondered about people who lament others' getting rich at their expense yet so few of those lamenters show any initiative to start a competing business and enrich themselves or their family.

Hell, if it was as simple and immensely profitable as you folks implied one would think every school teacher and firefighter in northwest Colorado would be jumping into that line of work... $354/ hr is hardly chicken feed, after all.

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