MARIETTA — The Cobb Board of Commissioners on Tuesday will consider issuing a request for proposals to create a health clinic for county employees and their dependents.
In September 2010, the Marietta City Council voted to fund a clinic for its employees in a vote of 4-2, with Van Pearlberg and Grif Chalfant opposed, and Johnny Sinclair absent.
The city clinic is an exclusive benefit for the 695 city employees, their 1,121 dependents, as well as 255 retirees and their 121 dependents. It does not replace their existing health insurance, but serves as an added option, city manager Bill Bruton said.
The clinic, which the city pays CareHere of Tennessee about $34,000 per month to operate, functions like a primary care provider, handling everything from physicals to infections. It’s staffed with two physicians, two nurse practitioners and one LPN.
The city is self-insured, with a health plan that is administered through Blue Cross Blue Shield. Therefore, it pays participants’ claims. Bruton says the cost to visit a doctor through the clinic is less expensive than a similar doctor’s visit through the marketplace because the clinic’s costs are lower, with less overhead and paperwork.
Since opening, the clinic has saved the city $509,889, Bruton said.
The city spent $8.1 million on health care services for employees and retirees in 2012. Without the clinic, it would have been over $8.5 million, Bruton said.
Moreover, the clinic’s healthcare professionals have discovered many existing medical conditions with employees and dependents, such as diabetes, that were not previously known about.
“The total cost savings that they estimate we will avoid because of early treatment is $8 million dollars,” Bruton said. “They are saying that the total future costs of the medical problems they found in these individuals will be $8 million less because of the treatment they are now receiving.”
Mayor Steve Tumlin said he recommends the county adopt a similar program based on his experience with the city’s clinic.
“It’s exceeded expectations,” Tumlin said. “We’re delighted with it. Both financially and for the health of our employees we’re ready to call it a success.”
The county government spends $57.5 million annually on direct health care services for employees and retirees.
“We also use Blue Cross Blue Shield in a similar manner to the city,” said county spokesman Robert Quigley. “We also have Kaiser operating in a similar fashion. We anticipate the same outcome as the city with the clinic visits being less expensive.”
The county’s health plan covers 3,844 current employees, 1,016 retirees and roughly 6,200 dependents, Quigley said.
County Chairman Tim Lee said he’s visited the city of Chattanooga, which has a similar clinic program for its employees, as well as the one used by Marietta.
“We’ve sat down with our wellness experts here in the county and it’s led us to believe that a clinic would be a good program for the county employees, clinic programs, because of the benefit it would provide for them,” Lee said. “If they got for instance a head cold, something like that, they can make an appointment, time is set, they get there, they’re not going to wait an hour and a half, no co-pay associated with it, most of the drugs are going to be issued free of charge, most of the testing. By making clinics, although there is a cost associated with the clinics, it saves me money in the long run from all these people going to Doc-in-the-Box or to the emergency room.”
Lee said if all goes as planned, a county clinic could be in place in the next six to nine months.
“Definitely hopefully before the end of this fiscal year,” he said.
Lee said he wants whatever companies that respond to the RFP to consider multiple clinic sites for the county.
“For instance, a lot of our employees live in Paulding and Cherokee and Cobb, so we hope that whoever does it will be able to provide convenient locations for the wellness programs, so that if you’re a Cherokee mom, and you’re an eligible dependent, you don’t have to drive all the way to Marietta,” Lee said.
The Board of Commissioners meets at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at 100 Cherokee Street in Marietta.