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Are on-site health clinics the health care solution for employers?


David Jackson, Senior Vice President of Strategic Services, ARUP Laboratories

As health care costs continue their long arc upward, what’s a company to do? According to an article in the Washington Post, companies employing 10 or more workers paid an average of $10,588 per employee for health care benefits last year. Facing unsustainable financial pressure to provide health care benefits to their employees, many employers are shifting the cost to their employees: requiring them to pay higher insurance premiums and deductibles or by reducing services in health care plans.

But more and more companies are turning to a different strategy to maintain a healthy workforce: on-site health clinics. These clinics are designed to control overall costs by emphasizing primary care and promoting long-term health. On-site nurse, nurse managers, and physicians help employees manage chronic diseases, such as diabetes, and provide convenient access to care so that employees aren’t making time-consuming and often unnecessary trips to see expensive medical specialists or visit the ER.

Employers providing on-site health clinics are among the most recognizable in the world: aircraft manufacturer Boeing, United Airlines, Walt Disney, American Express and Toyota. The auto manufacturer, according to the journal Managed Care, spent $9 million dollars to build an on-site clinic at its San Antonio manufacturing plant that opened in 2006. Since opening the clinic, its referrals to specialists are down by 33 percent and visits to urgent care and emergency departments down by 25 percent.

The costs of setting up and running an on-site clinic make it an option primarily for larger businesses, but on-site clinics aren’t restricted to global enterprises. Faced with a choice of raising insurance premiums, increasing deductibles or cutting back services, Salt Lake City-based ARUP Laboratories decided to build an on-site health clinic for its 2,800 employees and their families. The clinic, which sees about 30,000 people a year, establishes a “medical home” for patients to coordinate their care and help control individual health care costs. At the same time, ARUP has begun initiatives to improve long-term employee health and reduce costs 10 to 15 years from now. The results? In the past four years ARUP’s health care costs have remained stable, saving money for the company and employees.

Mark Miller, CEO of the Mark Miller Corp., Chair Community Board of Directors, University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics

Smaller businesses can’t realistically establish on-site clinics, so they have to look for different solutions. Utah businessman Mark Miller feels the responsibility for the wellbeing of his 320 employees of his car dealerships and their families. Constantly rising costs make it challenging to afford health care coverage for both his company and his employees, but he believes that more transparency about prices and providers and institutions can help people make smarter choices to rein in costs. In the auto industry for example, car buyers can go to a Web site and find out prices and read reviews of vehicles and dealers. Miller wants to see similar information about health care prices and reviews of providers or facilities become available. Hospitals, doctors, and business people need to work together to control costs and take care of people.

By: Amy Albo

Amy Albo is the Publisher for University of Utah Health Sciences.