Clinic planned at Stillwater High could mean big savings for the district

  • Article by: ANDREW KRAMMER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 8, 2013 - 4:55 PM

Marie Jara has tightened her belt like the average American, whether it's by cutting coupons or skipping dinner out.

So when the Stillwater High School cafeteria manager heard about the on-site medical clinic planned for school district employees, she was intrigued.

"With the costs of medical insurance and going to the doctor," Jara said, "I hope this is another great ... big coupon for the district."

The Stillwater School District plans to eventually save $279,000 annually from the clinic, which aims to battle increased insurance rates and create a convenient way to receive routine care.

About 1,050 employees and nearly 1,500 of their dependents will be able to receive convenient care and common prescriptions at no out-of-pocket cost. The 761-square-foot clinic, scheduled to open in May, will be staffed by a physician's assistant and house two exam rooms and a lab in the southeast area of the high school.

The school board approved the $106,000 project at its Jan. 24 meeting.

Cathy Moen, Stillwater's director of administrative services, said it's just one more step the district is taking to cut spending.

"We moved to a self-funded insurance plan last year for the purpose to try and control costs," Moen said. "What the clinic allows us to do is reduce claims to an insurance program, which means our costs don't go up and we control our renewal rates each year."

By the third year of operation, the district plans to reap the full benefits. Moen said an average of $279,000 will be saved annually by the 2015-16 school year. The district currently pays $12.5 million in health insurance alone.

"If we can keep dollars from being spent on health insurance, it's dollars that can stay in the classroom," Moen said.

On-site health care is becoming more common in Minnesota school districts and elsewhere as employers look to cut costs, retain employees and bolster productivity.

"Health care is health care, regardless if you're a teacher, machinist or even a doctor," said Mick Hannafin, an account executive at David Martin Agency Inc., an Edina-based employee benefits management firm. "It's a matter of getting the right care, at the right place at the right time."

Hannafin has helped companies across the state set up on-site clinics and said nearly all have experienced lower annual rate increases than the average insurance provider. Hannafin said his clients have seen their employees use the on-site clinics more than their regular family doctors.

That's the hope for the district, Moen said, pointing out that patients will be able to monitor routine health problems and avoid the potential sick day if it's just to get checked by a doctor.

"Previously the thinking was you needed 5,000 people on an employer's campus for these things to make sense," Hannafin said. "But now it's really making sense for groups as little as 300 employees."

HealthPartners will help manage and run the clinic inside the high school. The Bloomington-based health service runs the Stillwater Medical Group, part of Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater.

Cheryl Hale, the school nurse at Stillwater High School, said the affiliation with HealthPartners will provide the clinic with health records for those who go to Lakeview Hospital. And even if a patient's records aren't readily available, Hale said there are plenty of other advantages. "If my doctor was in Oakdale, it would be a huge convenience for me to come see the in-house practitioner," Hale said.

It isn't an easy sell for everyone. Jara said she could see benefits for employees with young children that want a quick checkup, but not the in-depth care that the 20-plus-year school veteran needs.

"I've never used a minute clinic before," Jara said. "I think we [cafeteria staff] will still see our regular doctors. But it is helpful for basic stuff."

Andrew Krammer is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

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