August 9, 2018 10:42:06 AM
Columbus is cutting funding for the primary care clinic offered to city employees and their dependents, with councilmen citing lack of use.
The city has submitted the required 30-day notice to terminate its agreement with Baptist Medical Group, which runs the clinic at 2503 Fifth St. N.
Columbus, along with Lowndes County and Columbus Light and Water, entered separate agreements with BMG in February 2017 to offer the clinic for its employees and their dependents. The clinic is staffed with nurses, a nurse practitioner and the equipment necessary to provide services such as preventative care, physicals and educational programs along with primary care and filled prescriptions, all at no cost to the insured employees. The clinic's aim was to help lower insurance costs for each entity, while also providing low-cost health care to the entity's employees.
The combined cost for the city, county and CLW was $226,000 per year. Since the city had the most employees of the entities -- with more than 500 -- it paid the lion's share of that cost, just more than $190,000.
But 18 months in, Columbus Human Resources Manager Pat Mitchell said only 35 city employees and their dependents are using the clinic. On Monday, during a budget workshop, city councilmen opted to pull out of its agreement with BMG.
"We thought it was going to be really good and we would save a good bit of money, but we couldn't sustain that if we did not have the participation," Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box said. "I was really surprised that there was not more usage. But 18 months is a pretty good trial period."
Councilmen Bill Gavin and Stephen Jones, of wards 5 and 6, respectively, spoke highly of the service, noting that quality of care was not a factor in their decision.
"It was a great thing but it was not being used enough," Jones said. "I know a few people that used it and everybody has great things to be said about it and I hate that we're not using it. But the cost cannot be justified."
BMG, however, has not given up just yet on keeping the city's business at the clinic.
Regional Director of Operations at BMG Janet Cranford told The Dispatch BMG is trying to revise the existing agreement to work better for the city.
"We have been in contact with some of the council members in the city and we hope to come to some type of revised model to suit their needs, and that opportunity would also be available for the county and the CLW," Cranford said.
Cranford said the clinic averages 200 to 250 visits per month.
County, CLW to keep using clinic
Both CLW General Manager Todd Gale and Lowndes County Administrator Ralph Billingsley said that they hope their employees can continue to use the clinic.
Though Billingsley could not speak to the exact amount of county employees using the service (due to state law, the county can only insure employees and employees pay the premium on any dependents), he said that the feedback has been stellar.
"We have been pretty pleased with the clinic," Billingsley said. "I have heard very good feedback (but) I do know that our people were using the clinic much more than the city."
Gale also spoke to the CLW employees' use of the clinic.
"We didn't have any problems to speak of," Gale said. "It's been a big benefit to our employees. We've got 90 employees and we've had about 30 percent participation."
Though Billingsley and Gale would like to continue the clinic agreement with BMG, both acknowledged there is little room for the cost to increase, which brings about the possibility of BMG pulling out of those agreements, as well.
"As long as we can do it for the same amount of money -- but it needs to stay where it is," Gale told the Dispatch. "Really, it needs to go down a bit."
Billingsley added: "It really depends on whether taking that big number of people out and if the number still works for Baptist. Even if we break even, it's still a real good thing for us and our employees. It's been a real big hit with the employees."
CLW will be meeting with BMG on Friday to discuss their options, according to Gale. Billingsley said that the county will be looking at numbers and will be meeting with BMG within the next few weeks to see what can be negotiated.
Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders said a potential option could be bringing in another large entity to help offset the costs for both the board and the CLW while also bringing more revenue to the BMG.
"It has been a good deal for us. But if the city wants to pull out, that's fine," Sanders said. "But if (BMG) is not willing to negotiate, maybe we'll have to find somebody like the county school system."
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