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Manage Chronic Illness & The Bottom Line

Chronic illness is not only a drain on the health of employees, it poses threats to productivity and a company’s bottom line. So what can be done to help break the insidious cycle that threatens the financial health and wellbeing of individuals and companies? Benefits advisors are seeking creative solutions to the endemic issues related to chronic illness. One solution that has worked well for certain employers is establishing on-site medical clinics.  These facilities, staffed with nurse practitioners, are located on work premises and help people with high-risk and other health issues better manage their illness.

But these programs are not the solution for every company, as they require both an initial investment and adequate real estate. On-site medical clinics are generally geared to employers with more than 100 employees, with experience-rated insurance pricing, rather than community-rated, insurance pricing. By improving employee health, companies have reduced claims and the cost of subsequent year premiums. Many smaller companies have community-rated insurance where this type of program would improve the health of their workforce, but probably won’t impact premium costs.

This wellness strategy is designed for progressive employers who want to continue providing benefits to attract and retain talent, yet better manage costs they believe are getting out of control. And it’s working. Clients experience significant results. For example, one participating company saved more than $1,000 per employee last year. Multiplied by hundreds of workers on the payroll, the result was hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings. Another client has avoided premium increases for three years. For many, operating costs are outweighed or offset by health care savings.

Brokers use third-party providers to offer onsite health services. Employers establish a dedicated, private space for the clinic and pay for a nurse practitioner -- and sometimes a primary care physician -- to staff the office. Typically, health professionals are present on specific days or a certain number of hours each week, depending on how many employees enroll. Some employers expand the scope of the program to encompass acute care, and the facility also serves as a convenient urgent care clinic. Others dispense select medications.

Participation is another crucial aspect of the program. As an incentive, employees receive insurance premium discounts. The process begins with a health risk assessment and biometric measures for cholesterol, blood glucose weight and the like. It then focuses on those with high-risk conditions and diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension – the primary drivers of health care costs.

While each program operates differently, high-risk individuals might visit the nurse once every 8 weeks for counseling and monitoring, moderate-risk personnel visit every 16 weeks and low-risk employees visit once annually. There might also be additional elements that encourage participation in exercise, weight loss or selection of healthy foods.

Cost varies depending on design and whether the clinic stocks medications. A business with 200 employees might spend $75,000 annually for a clinic, and at the same time spend $1.5 to $2 million a year on health insurance – a cost that could double in the in the very near future. By improving employee health, the onsite medical clinic helps the company reduce the chance of outrageous rises in premiums – or eliminate increases altogether. Beyond these advantages, the program sends a strong message about how much the company values its employees. Employees report positive outcomes such as:

  • Minimal work day interference need to clock out to attend to health needs
  • No co-pay to participate
  • No commutes or long waits in doctors’ offices
  • Receive direct, focused attention from a practitioner dedicated to serve them, rather than a distracted, busy medical practice

Ask your benefits advisor if a clinic down the hall is a good solution for your business.