Council members on Nov. 16 unanimously voted to table a service agreement for a contracted clinic in coordination with Premise Health. The clinic, which meeting documents stated would "provide prompt quality care for employees and dependents at no cost to the employee," would be located at 7589 Preston Road, Stes. 300 and 400, according to the agreement.
Tabling a decision on the clinic came after every council member shared why they were for or against the clinic. Those against the clinic worried whether a sufficient number of employees would take advantage of it. Those in favor said such a clinic is a sound investment as healthcare costs inflate.
“I believe it'll take us close to eight to nine years—if not longer than a decade—to break even ... I don’t believe that the private industry would make that choice,” said Brian Livingston, deputy mayor pro tem. “I'm very afraid that the losses will be much larger due to lower utilization that's planned or expected."
Estimated expenses in the clinic’s first year total over $1.44 million, according to a proposed five-year budget for Premise Health. Those expenses include salaries, insurance, management and implementation fees and equipment purchases.
The clinic’s fifth-year budget is listed at more than $1.31 million. Premise Health projects that the clinic will operate at a loss in its first three years.
Mayor Pro Tem Bill Woodard said the city needs to continue to find ways to protect its employees from rising healthcare costs. The city is self-insured, and although premium costs haven’t risen over the past five years, Woodard said it is inevitable.
“Ultimately, what we're trying to do with a setup like this is to take what right now is a 100% completely variable cost that is at the whims of the market and lock that cost in,” Woodard said. “If we have the numbers of employees that we expect to go through this, it actually reduces the city's overall costs.”
A majority of council members vocally disapproved of the plans for a clinic. They appeared poised to strike it down until City Manager George Purefoy spoke.
Purefoy said plans for such a clinic have been worked on for more than 10 years. He said he directed city staff to look into this model of healthcare because he believes it is difficult to find a primary care physician.
Lower-paid city employees would especially benefit from the clinic, according to Purefoy.
“This would be an excellent way to introduce those folks and their family members to some quality healthcare,” he said. “I'll never use it. So I've got no vested interest here other than my 34 years of observation of employees in this city.”
Purefoy said he was disappointed that it’s taken so long to establish a city clinic, and that it would never make it to a City Council agenda if he thought it was wasteful.
"I care very much about the taxpayer's money," Purefoy said, who is expected to retire in June. "I spent my whole career trying to make sure taxpayer money is not wasted."
City Council will revisit discussion on the clinic during their Dec. 7 meeting.