October 1, 2019 10:42:45 AM
Lowndes County will likely approve a new agreement with a local Baptist Medical Group Clinic to resume providing free medical care for its employees.
Meanwhile, Columbus Light and Water employees, which had used the clinic at no cost since it opened in 2017, have been left out of the equation.
County supervisors tabled a measure at their Monday meeting to resume using the clinic for non-contracted rate based on use. County Administrator Ralph Billingsley said supervisors will likely approve the agreement after Baptist provides a written quote for what the county will be billed each month for the service -- which he expects will be about $80 per patient visit.
"I still have to verify that number ... but I expect (supervisors) will approve it at next Monday's meeting," Billingsley said.
The county, CLW and the city of Columbus all agreed to contracts with the BMG clinic at 2502 Fifth St. N. in early 2017. Under the terms, each entity paid a flat fee of about $25 per covered individual per month, regardless of whether those people actually used the clinic. The contract charged the entities reduced rates for other services like lab work and medicine, as well.
Employees and dependents who used the clinic and its associated pharmacy paid nothing for those services, and the entities did not have to file claims for any clinic costs with their health insurance provider.
But Columbus, as a cost-saving measure, did not renew its contract for Fiscal Year 2020, which begins today, pulling its 470 employees and dependents covered by city insurance from the pool. BMG subsequently allowed its agreement with CLW to expire and has not offered a new deal to the utility, Executive Director Todd Gale said.
Billingsley said the county's fewer than 300 individuals covered by its health insurance weren't enough to continue the contract as-is, but paying even a higher rate for primary clinic care based on usage will basically amount to the same amount of money per month.
The county averages 80 visits per month, which charged at $80 each would cost $6,400 plus additional lab work -- the exact same as it paid under the contract. More visits, for example if there is a flu epidemic, he said, would obviously cost the county more.
"But if (an employee) goes to a primary care doctor, they'll have a $40 copay, and the doctor will then charge our insurance another $100 or more," Billingsley said. "(So the clinic is) a good deal for us as a county. It's a really good deal for the employees."
From January through July of this year, Billingsley said, the county paid BMG about $215,000 under the clinic contract. In the same period, it incurred $355,000 less than projected in health insurance claims -- a forecast the insurance provider based on the previous year's claims and the number of employees. Several factors led to decreased claims, but the clinic played a part, he said.
The new agreement with Baptist will not cover medicine, so employees and dependents will all return to paying copays for those services, which will then be filed on the county's insurance. Until an agreement is reached, county employees must also copay for clinic services at BMG, since the contract expired Monday.
Gale: CLW wanted to stay in
CLW wanted to continue to participate with BMG in some way after the city bowed out, but Gale said the utility wasn't given the opportunity.
"We went to them a couple of weeks ago to work out a deal," he said. "They responded by sending us a cancellation notice."
Gale said CLW's health insurance plan covers 150 employees and dependents, and all were eligible to use the clinic at no cost to the individual. That group was only generating about 30 visits per month, which Gale admitted actually cost CLW more than it saved.
"The employees who used it loved it," he said. "I thought maybe it would cut down our costs, but to break even we needed 50 to 60 visits per month. So we were under-utilizing it."
Still, Gale said, CLW is seeking options to keep that benefit for employees.
"We are talking with other clinics," he said. "(Employees) can use the Baptist clinic just like a regular clinic, I guess, but it will come with a copay and other costs."
Janet Cranford, director for regional operations with BMG, did not return a call and message seeking comment by press time.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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