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More US Companies Offer On-Site Health Care

  • Brad Linder

Providing medical insurance for employees is a large and growing expense for American businesses. So, as health care costs continue to rise, many corporations across the United States are looking for new ways to deliver health care to their employees. Some of the nation's largest employers are offering more than insurance, they're adding on-site clinics.

At CIGNA, a national health insurance provider based in Philadelphia, employees like Jane Woodington can drop by the on-site health center to fill a prescription or get a flu shot. "I had a skin rash that was bothering me a lot, and I came in and Vicki took a look at that. It's just really very convenient," she says, adding that it gives her peace of mind. "When you're at work, if something happens, there's someone here that can assist you."

Nurse Practitioner Vicki Dixon runs CIGNA's health clinic, which offers most of the same services available in a doctor's office, from blood tests to physical therapy. She agrees that convenience is a big factor and not just for employees. "We can see a patient, an employee, in and out within about 15 minutes, because we are right on site. There's very minimal waiting. So one of our goals is to keep our employees productive." If there's a waiting line at the clinic, employees can go back to their desk and someone from the clinic will call them when they can be seen.

That saved CIGNA more than $1.4 million last year in employee work time, and that's not counting savings associated with early detection of health problems and fewer health insurance claims filed with outside doctors.

Helen Darling is president of the non-profit National Business Group on Health. She says those are the kind of savings that have prompted a growing number of U.S. companies, including Pepsi, General Motors, and Toyota to turn to in-house clinics like CIGNA's. She points out, "If you want people to get flu shots, the fastest, best, least expensive, in terms of time and money way to get that is to deliver it on-site. If you want to help people pick up prescription drugs, in many instances, the least expensive, most convenient way for them to get it is at the work site, because people come to work every day."

Some companies had operated on-site health centers in the past. Darling recalls, "There were companies back in the 70s, when corporations spent money on things like very fancy buildings, and bought artwork, and opened up sometimes on-site medical clinics, as a convenience. But the movement today, it's relatively new." She says the practice has only become widespread in the past few years, with health care costs at least 30 times higher today than they were in the 1970s.

Rather than hiring doctors and nurses, many employers turn to companies like Pennsylvania-based CHD Meridian. It runs more than 200 health clinics for almost 100 different corporations. CEO Dixon Thayer says some locations are staffed by a nurse practitioner, while others have a family care physician. "We actually are even providing dental and vision care," he says. "We will perform very minor surgeries, a stitch here or there, but see we're not there to replace the hospitals. We're not there to replace the specialists. We're there to help the employees get the best care they can."

Thayer says the companies with the most to gain from health clinics are those with 1000 or more employees. But he says smaller companies can benefit as well, by sharing a clinic. "Every office building in Manhattan has over 1,000 employees, it may just not be with one employer. Or every office park in the suburbs," he points out. "So one of the areas that we continue to mine and explore is what we call coalitions." Employers who band together, Thayer says, get the same benefit.

Back at CIGNA, Nurse practitioner Vicki Dixon says the company saves an average of two hours of worker productivity for every visit an employee makes to the health clinic. "For our population who commute into the city from the suburbs, that can be a half day, or a whole day away from the workplace [for a doctor's visit]. But at a very minimal, about two hours."

As U.S. health care costs continue to rise, it's not just companies that are looking for savings. Jane Woodington left CIGNA a few years ago to work at another company. And although CIGNA's health clinic wasn't the only thing that drew her back, she says it was definitely an added bonus.

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