County could use city's model which has saved taxpayers money

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Knox County is looking into opening a chronic care clinic for its employees, a move officials say will lead to a more healthy and productive workforce and save the taxpayers money on insurance coverage.

Officials still want to talk more about the plan, but the county could begin the bidding process within the next month or so, and have the operation up and running by the end of the year. Officials say they want the center to offer "motivational face-to-face coaching," workers' compensation health services and lab screenings, among other services.

The clinic, which would include an on-site medication program, would be available to roughly 4,700 employees, spouses and their children. The plan would be to build a center or open one at an existing site and then have a third-party provide the services.

"We're looking at trying to get people to quit smoking, to make sure they're taking their blood pressure medicine, and keeping up with their annual exams, because a heart attack or open heart surgery is going to cost," said Nick McBride, the chairman of the county's employee insurance benefits committee. "If you have a diabetic and they're not taking care of themselves or taking their insulin, then you're looking at a kidney transplant in excess of $1 million. The costs just go on and on."

McBride added that officials want whatever vendor is picked to sign a "performance" contract, meaning the company would be on the hook for meeting certain goals tied to improving employee health. He added that he's not sure how much the county would save, but "there will be overall savings by just preventing someone from going to the hospital."

"If you keep one person from having to go into the hospital for open heart surgery, then that's just one case that could save $1 million," McBride said. "The figure is unbelievable."

The county self-funds its health insurance program and employees are required to pay a premium.

County leaders also said they'd like to use the City of Knoxville's health and wellness center on Loraine Street as a model. Summit Medical Group has operated it since 2008. The city's contract, which expires this year, pays Summit almost $1.1 million per year.

Still, city benefits manager Christine Fitzgerald says "we definitely know that there are savings."

For three years now, she said, the city has offered employees a special "my health" plan that allows them to use the center and meet with health coaches. She said officials are still crunching the numbers to determine just how much the city has saved in insurance costs, but said those involved in the coaching program have lower hospital claims than those who don't.

She also said those who participate in the program cost the city, on average, $58 per month, and those who don't cost the city, on average, $224 per month.

"We're reducing costs," Fitzgerald said.

The center employs four health coaches, including a registered nurse, a physical therapist, an assistant physical therapist and a registered dietitian.

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