After 32 years working for Cumberland County, Amy Cannon knows a good way to save a buck when she sees one. So she’s a big advocate for the medical clinic and pharmacy that the central North Carolina county set up for its employees in 2012.
Recently, the county stepped up its commitment to the center by signing a $600,000 annual agreement with Proactive MD, a Simpsonville, S.C.-based company that is providing a physician, a nurse and a patient advocate to serve about 2,700 Cumberland County employees, covered spouses and retirees. It was chosen from about five vendors who offered proposals.
The center allows county employees to arrange no-cost appointments with a physician in a convenient way, saving time and money.
“We realize that some workers don’t have primary care doctors or couldn’t afford co-pays or medications,” says Cannon, the county manager for eight years. She is retiring later this year. “It’s been very successful and it helps make us a premier employer, while saving money.”
Much of the return on investment comes from identifying conditions earlier than if undetected, leading to fewer emergency room visits and less expensive care.
The county manager estimates more than half of those eligible have tapped the program, while about 80% use the pharmacy service. Drug prescriptions are typically less expensive than by going through retail pharmacies, she says.
Cannon isn’t aware of any other N.C. counties that offer such a comprehensive service.
Proactive has nine other similar health centers open in the Carolinas, with Cumberland County marking the first county government as a client, says Troy Corley, a senior vice president of employer engagement. Nationally, the company has about 70 clients, most of them employing at least 500 people. Furniture maker Lee Industries of Conover is a client.
Having a company doctor or nurse is an old tradition at North Carolina textile companies and other manufacturers. After losing popularity as those traditional industries shrunk, the practice is returning as employers see the value of preventative medicine and the need to address medical expenses, Corley says.
“As the costs of health care continue to increase, employers are looking for creative strategies to bend the cost curve without limiting care,” he adds.
Expanding primary care options is a major industry focus. In July, Amazon agreed to pay $3.9 billion for San Francisco-based One Medical, which provides a similar service as ProactiveMD to more than 8,000 companies nationally. Walgreens is opening hundreds of VillageMD offices around the U.S.
Offering great care is essential because employees won’t show up if they don’t trust the Proactive MD physician, Cannon notes. But that hasn’t been an issue for Cumberland, which previously had a contract with Novant Health, which supplied a nurse practitioner at the county clinic.
“If they are overrun with patients, we consider that a success,” Cannon says. “They are willing to take that risk.”