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County opening clinic for workers

Jackson County officials believe a new health clinic that will be used by many — but not all — county employees will save the county at least $350,000 over three years in health care costs.

The clinic could open as soon as July 1, said County Administrator Danny Jordan.

Instead of going to their regular doctors and pharmacies, employees and their family members will have the choice of going to the clinic to get free care for problems such as sore throats, the flu, allergies, sprains, sports physicals, minor surgeries and annual exams.

"I'm really excited about this. It's a win-win for the employee and the taxpayer of Jackson County," said County Commissioner Don Skundrick.

Jackson County is among the first government agency in Oregon to make the cost-cutting move to open an on-site employee clinic, said Jordan. Deschutes County was the first government agency in Oregon to open an on-site employee clinic.

(Correction: This story has been updated with details about the first such clinic.)

In 2013, the city of Yakima was the first local government in Washington to open an employee clinic. It won a National Public Employer Labor Relations Association award that year for its innovative move to control health care costs. Yakima hopes to save $326,000 this year and up to $2 million over three years as its clinic use increases.

Jackson County has already saved $3 million over the past four years by self-insuring its management and confidential employees. Confidential employees handle confidential information and, like managers, are not represented by public employee unions.

Other jurisdictions, including the Medford School District and the city of Ashland, also have moved to the self-insurance model to lower skyrocketing health insurance costs that have bedeviled governments and businesses for years.

The 220 Jackson County management and confidential employees covered through self-insurance will be able to use the new clinic, along with their covered family members. That equals about 650 covered people, Jordan said.

"This is another step to make our insurance costs go down significantly," he said.

Jordan said county officials are looking at working with unions to negotiate moving union-covered employees into the self-insurance program so they could also go to the clinic.

The county will have the equivalent of 902 full-time workers for the fiscal year that starts on July 1.

The county is remodeling its Community Justice and Elections Center building at 1101 W. Main St. to house the clinic in a portion of the building. People will enter the clinic through a separate side door.

To pay for the remodeling, the county used almost $188,000 out of the $3 million it has saved through self-insurance, Skundrick said.

If eligible employees use the clinic for only 45 percent of their doctor visits, the county will save $351,658 over three years, according to projections from the company miCare, which has contracted with the county to run the clinic.

On average, employees of other jurisdictions use miCare clinics for 80 percent of their visits, Jordan said.

County employees can always go to their own doctors, but if they visit the clinic, they will not have to pay visit or prescription co-pays, Jordan said.

"This doesn't require people to leave their doctor," he said. "There is no mandate to go to this clinic. The incentive is, 'Hey, I don't have to pay.'"‰"

The county could save money through the clinic on several fronts.

Jordan said traditional mark-ups on prescriptions and lab work are enormous, costing employees and employers money.

The county will buy medicines at wholesale prices. A course of antibiotics, for example, that costs $50 could be purchased for just 30 cents. A lab test that would normally cost $600 to $700 would cost $25, Jordan said.

"This is a huge savings to the taxpayer," he said.

The clinic will be staffed by a doctor, a nurse practitioner and other medical support staff.

Employees will be able to book 20-minute appointments by phone or the Internet.

Skundrick said the clinic will operate on the Mayo Clinic model, in which wait times are minimized and patients see health care workers at the time of their appointments.

"That's huge for parents with kids. Getting in and out is big, especially for working people," he said.

The county's three elected commissioners will be among the employees using the clinic.

Jordan said employees who have traditional doctors' appointments often have to take the whole afternoon off to account for wait times and to get prescriptions filled. Prescriptions can be filled on site at the clinic, and employees can get prescriptions by mail.

"That means less time away from work," he said, another bonus for taxpayers.

The clinic will use electronic record-keeping so that medical information can be shared with outside doctors and specialists when patients seek care outside the clinic, Jordan said.

Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.