“Do-It-Yourself” Employee Health Care

Motivated by rising health-care costs and commitment to their staff’s health and productivity, many companies are taking matters into their own hands.

Image courtesy of Flickr user BlackburnMike_1.

As employers contend with a health-care system that is costly, difficult to access and inconsistent in quality, an old idea — providing health care to employees at or near their workplace — is gaining new momentum. A 2011 study by the professional-services company Towers Watson and the nonprofit National Business Group on Health found that 23% of the midsized and large U.S. employers they surveyed had on-site health clinics and that another 12% planned to establish an on-site clinic in 2012. Some companies operate clinics with their own employees (including doctors and nurses) while others contract with outside organizations for clinical management and staff. Smaller employers may even share a clinic with neighboring employers.

Consider software-provider SAS Institute, selected by Fortune for two consecutive years as the best company to work for in the U.S. SAS reports saving millions of dollars a year — largely through reduced health-plan costs and heightened worker productivity — by operating its own on-site, full-service health-care center for employees and their families. The SAS Health Care Center, which started modestly in 1984 and now has a staff of 55, including four physicians and 10 nurse practitioners, does not charge for services and collects no copays. Same-day appointments are common, and care is unhurried; clinicians may spend 30 minutes or more with a patient. All services typically available in a primary care medical practice are offered, and more. Patients can get allergy shots, consult a dietitian, receive physical therapy, have blood work done or see a psychotherapist. Meanwhile, they develop a relationship with a primary care clinician — in other words, establish a “medical home,” which fosters continuity of care. The center also offers a wide variety of health-related educational programming both on-site and online.

In an era of soaring health-care costs, it may seem unreal that SAS can offer health care free of charge to employees and their families and actually save money. Yet in 2010, efficiency enabled SAS to directly generate in health-plan savings alone more than $1.50 for every dollar it spent to operate its health-care center.

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