- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

Corporations struggling to stem the rising tide of health care costs are providing on-site medical services that used to be found only in doctors’ offices and hospitals.

The National Business Group on Health recently released a survey on the prevalence of on-site clinics among U.S. employers with more than 1,000 employees. Of those surveyed, 23 percent reported offering on-site medical services in 2007, while 29 percent plan to offer a program next year.

“These clinics are also an opportunity to provide services in a more cost-effective way,” said Helen Darling, president of the Washington lobbying group. “They will have limited services, and the patient won’t get a lot of extra costly services, which the employer would have had to pay for.”

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that the premiums businesses pay for their workers’ health care have increased 78 percent since 2001. But creating a medical facility is not exactly a cheap solution to the problem, so the trend is predominantly found among large employers.

Automakers and other manufacturers have been incorporating on-site health care into their business plans for years. Mishaps are a fact of life in manufacturing, where nurses are needed to treat occupational injuries.

But over the past several years, white-collar employers, including technology and pharmaceutical companies, are discovering that it is cost-effective to offer a clinic with a family physician who provides care to employees and their families.

World Health Management of Cleveland has offered on-site health care services to employers for more than 20 years. Jim Hummer, founder of the company, said he witnessed an evolution in employers’ thinking on health care during that time.

“All of a sudden, it’s in vogue to get involved in workers’ health care issues,” he said. “Health care costs have gone out of sight, so the employers are realizing they must change. For the first time, there is an alignment of interest between the workers and employers on preventing illnesses.”

Indicative of the sudden interest in on-site health care, World Health Management’s revenues increased 80 percent from 2003 to 2006, Mr. Hummer said.

Miles Snowden, senior vice president of health advancement solutions at UnitedHealth Group, a Minnesota managed health care provider, said one-quarter of his clients, which include 600 of the largest employers in the country, inquired about on-site care facilities over the past year. At least half of those companies are constructing clinics, he said.

“I rarely had this conversation two years ago,” said Mr. Snowden, who was a director of benefits strategy and health services at Delta Air Lines. “Employers are seeing this as a palatable option to high medical costs.”

At Pepsi Bottling Group Inc., which has more than 20 on-site health clinics nationwide and is building 10 more this year and next, rising costs are a big motivator. David Kasiarz, vice president of compensation, benefits and risk at Pepsi Bottling, said the company, with 40,000 employees, faces double-digit cost increases each year.

Pepsi Bottling’s approach is emblematic of a growing irritation with productivity losses because of the time it takes to get to and from appointments with doctors, resulting in more employees taking days off work. On-site health care offers convenience that the old doctor’s office cannot.

“We know if we get people health care, it will impact our bottom line,” said Mr. Kasiarz. “Productivity equals business results, and the future of health care is getting people healthy.”

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