DUNEDIN — A new partnership with Clearwater is expected to save Dunedin residents thousands of dollars in health care costs for city workers and their families.
Starting July 9, workers enrolled in Dunedin's health plan will be eligible to seek out routine medical care and generic medications at the health clinic Clearwater rolled out two years ago for its employees.
Employees aren't required to use the clinic, which doesn't offer specialist care or name-brand medications. They can still obtain drugs or see a doctor of their choosing through the city's traditional insurance plan.
But Dunedin officials are hoping most will take advantage of the new agreement, which they say will cut down costs by providing health services at a fixed cost. The clinic will emphasize preventative care in an effort to reduce the number of high-dollar claims Dunedin paid out of its self-insured medical plan last year for emergency room visits, surgeries and other serious conditions.
Dunedin anticipates saving taxpayers anywhere from $86,000 to $332,000 in avoided claims during the partnership's first year.
Eligible employees and their dependents — 700 in all — are projected to save between $44,000 and $75,000 in eliminated co-pays for doctor appointments and prescriptions — an incentive officials hope will encourage them to jump aboard.
"It's a direct savings for the city because the costs of those services through the clinic are less than if the employee filed a claim through the medical plan," said Clearwater human resources manager Allen DelPrete. "But the ultimate goal is to get the employees with a doctor who's engaged and convenient, so they don't have to submit a claim through the medical plan."
Dunedin joins more than 20 Florida cities and counties that either operate or are in the process of opening employee medical centers.
Clearwater "conservatively" estimates that its clinic resulted in a claims avoidance of just over $3.2 million between its July 2010 opening and December 2011, DelPrete said. Clearwater employees, he said, saved nearly $950,000 in avoided co-pays. The figures were calculated by comparing actual usage at Clearwater's facility to the average cost for routine office visits and generic medications under Clearwater's plan with Cigna.
Similar results would be a boon for self-insured Dunedin, which deposits employees' bi-monthly health contributions into a fund that's used to pay out claims. (The city pays Humana an administrative fee to monitor claims and handle "catastrophic" claims over $100,000.)
Dunedin human resources director Nancy Duggan said the city incurred about $2.6 million in claims for employees and their families during the 2010-11 fiscal year, the first that the city was self-insured, essentially wiping out the fund. Officials hope the clinic will help the city begin to build a reserve.
Under a one-year contract approved by Dunedin commissioners last week, city employees and their families will share the facility, located in the Powell Professional Center at 401 Corbett St. in Clearwater, with Clearwater's eligible 1,474 employees, 184 retirees and their 1,033 dependents.
Dunedin will contribute $305,317 to Clearwater and Care ATC, which provides administrative oversight, for medical staffing and other operation costs.
The partnership will allow Clearwater to expand its clinic staff and hours. Three doctors and two nurse practitioners will offer dedicated 20-minute appointments from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with no break during lunch or long waits for appointments. Employees will be allowed to leave work and visit the clinic during the work day.
For the same amount of money, Duggan said, Dunedin could have afforded only one nurse practitioner for eight to 12 hours a week.
She said the city will evaluate additional clinic hours or potential changes to employees' paycheck deductions down the road.
"In the end, it's really about making insurance affordable so (employees) can be proactive," Duggan said. "The more proactive they can be with their health, the more money we're going to save as a community."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.