Steamboat School Board to vote on health clinic proposal Monday | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat School Board to vote on health clinic proposal Monday

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

— 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