October 8, 2019 9:53:53 AM
A week after it seemed poised to sign a new agreement with a local Baptist Medical Group Clinic, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors will consider other possibilities for its employees' doctors visits and pharmacy.
On Oct. 1, supervisors tabled a motion to continue Baptist Medical Clinic (BMG) on non-contract basis, preferring to wait until the clinic submitted a written quote for costs under a new agreement.
Monday, however, County Administrator Ralph Billingsley again asked discussion of the clinic services to be tabled. He said he had talked to Columbus Light and Water General Manager Todd Gale about discussions with other clinics and pharmacies. He suggested the board hold off their decision on whether to continue with the Baptist clinic until hearing from Gale.
The county, CLW and the city of Columbus all agreed to contracts with the BMG clinic at 2502 Fifth St. N. in early 2017. Under the terms, each entity paid a flat fee of about $25 per covered individual per month, regardless of whether those people actually used the clinic. The contract charged the entities reduced rates for other services like lab work and medicine, as well. The city had 470 employees/dependents in the coverage while the county had a little fewer than 300 and CLW had 170.
Columbus pulled out of the agreement this summer. BMG notified the county and CLW that the old agreement would be discontinued on Sept. 30.
The county previously discussed continuing to use BMG on a non-contract basis, allowing employees and their dependents to continue to use clinic services without a copay. The county would, in turn, pay BMG $80 per visit on a month-to-month basis. Pharmacy services would not be included in that arrangement.
CLW was not offered that opportunity, Gale previously told The Dispatch.
During Monday's supervisors meeting, District 3 Supervisor John Holliman said he had talked to Joe Gillis, who owns four Allegro clinics and multiple pharmacies in the county, about the possibility of working out an agreement.
Reached Monday, Gillis confirmed that interest.
"I did say I might be interested, but that is pretty much as far as it went," he said.
Board president Harry Sanders said BMG might be willing to offer a better plan if there were clinics competing for the county's business.
"Whatever we do, I don't think Todd Gale should be negotiating for us on this," Holliman said. "We should be doing our own negotiations."
Reached Tuesday afternoon, Gale said he had been in touch with two other clinics and had made a call to Gillis, but had not heard back from him.
"I did talk to Southern Drugs, which is under Allegro Clinic," said Gale.
The county is continuing to use the Baptist clinic in the meantime, agreeing to pay $120 per office visit per employee, which covers the employee's copay. Employees are responsible for the drug copay, however.
Gale said CLW chose not to renew with Baptist because of the added costs of pharmacy coverage.
"When the city pulled out, that was about half the total number of people covered between the county, city and us," Gale said. "Up to that point we were getting some pretty good discounts on lab work, pharmacy and immunizations. But when the city pulled out, (Baptist) told us they couldn't offer those discounts any more."
Sanders said the addition of the employee copays for pharmacy, labs and immunizations make it reasonable to see if there are other options that would continue to provide those services at no cost to the employee.
"The bigger the pool, the better deal you get," Sanders said. "We are open to bringing in the city, Light and Water, the county or city schools -- anybody that self-insures so that we have that bigger pool."
Sanders said he was also in favor of opening the discussion to as many groups as possible that might want to provide those services.
"The more, the better," he said.
Janet Cranford, director for regional operations with BMG, did not return a call and message seeking comment.
Sanders said he doubted the county could select a clinic plan for its employees for weeks.
"That's why we agreed (with BMG) to stay with them now, even though the county is picking up extra costs on the office visits," he said. "They'll have to pay copays for their prescriptions, but we're taking care of the rest until we can figure out what we want to do."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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