The City of Westminster
By Lisa Chrisman, Westminster employee development and benefits manager
Rising healthcare costs are part of the national landscape — and municipal employers are no different when trying to get a handle on this trend.
The City of Westminster has long taken a comprehensive and innovative approach to contain healthcare costs, offering an employee wellness program as well as several other elements to help reduce the rate of increase in healthcare costs.
Wellness efforts began in 1985. While the program has evolved over the years, the overriding objective remains the same: Create an awareness of preventive care and healthy lifestyle habits, with concentrated and purposeful efforts aimed at increasing employee knowledge, engagement, and individual accountability.
The ultimate goal is to create an environment that assists individuals in sustaining healthy lifestyles and behaviors, thus reducing insurance costs for the employee and the city. Additional benefits include increased positive employee morale, increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, and an improved quality of life.
In 2010, the City contracted with a benefits consulting firm to develop a multiyear medical/dental benefits strategy to address long-term sustainability of the medical benefits plan for city employees and dependents. The decision to self-insure has enabled the City to take an integrative approach to benefits claims analysis and targeted wellness efforts, all focused on the overriding objective of sustaining a quality healthcare benefit.
Strategic planning and access to aggregate claims data in the self-insured benefits plan, along with a long-term focus, has kept yearly insurance renewals low and has enabled the city to further expand on the wellness program by implementing an on-site employee health clinic.
The Center for Healthy Living opened in January 2013 and provides an additional avenue to support the City’s proactive strategy to mitigate healthcare costs and risk in the self-insured medical plan. The center is operated by an outside vendor, ensuring confidentiality of patient information.
Savings come from direct provision of various medical services, including office visits, pharmaceuticals, and targeted efforts at chronic disease management. Clinic services (all free) include routine exams and physicals; screenings and immunizations; acute care (ear infections, cold, flu, muscle strain, respiratory infections, strep cultures, and laceration repair); free prescriptions; and chronic care maintenance and follow-up.
Individualized plans are developed with each employee to reduce risk factors.
Initial analysis and research project a profitable return on investment for the City, reducing claims and the healthcare trend factor by up to 50 percent.
The center also offers many benefits to employees covered by the City’s health insurance plan. It is conveniently located with no or very little wait time. Office visits are free of charge, and an expanding list of pharmaceuticals are offered at no cost to employees. The center is staffed 32 hours per week with a physician, a physician’s assistant, and a nurse, and employees may use the clinic on city time. The facility houses two exam rooms, a blood work lab, offices, restrooms, a locked area for prescription drugs, and a conference/training room used for educational sessions.
The center has enabled the City to further enhance wellness program efforts through the consolidation and integration of all participant information, increasing the ability to analyze and maximize available benefits. It encourages employees to address their medical issues through preventive initial screenings and referrals, and reinforces a culture of well-being and personal accountability to health.
Aggregated claims data provided through the self-insured health plan, coupled with the center and wellness program efforts, allows better utilization of healthcare dollars by reducing office visit and prescription costs, as well as providing an effective avenue to manage health concerns.
When launching its employee health clinic, the City of Westminster faced a number of challenges — finding the right location, the right vendor ... and the right message to employees. Employee buy-in is paramount, as employee use is necessary to cover costs. Strong, simple messages resonate more. Keep it as simple as possible; health insurance is complex and the overriding objective of a cost-containment strategy is difficult for employees to understand. Focus on benefits to employees; emphasize the low cost (free office visits, prescriptions) and convenience (no waiting, online appointment scheduling).
The health-conscious culture of the organization is one that has benefited the employees, the City, and, ultimately, the taxpayers. This also provides an opportunity to protect and enhance a valuable component of the city’s comprehensive compensation package in a fiscally responsible manner.