The state of Montana has undertaken an experiment in cutting its healthcare expenses that I thought I’d pass along:
A year ago, Montana opened the nation’s first clinic for free primary healthcare services to its state government employees. The Helena, Mont., clinic was pitched as a way to improve overall employee health, but the idea has faced its fair share of political opposition.
A year later, the state says the clinic is already saving money.
Pamela Weitz, a 61-year-old state library technician, was skeptical about the place at first.
“I thought it was just the goofiest idea, but you know, it’s really good,” she says. In the last year, she’s been there for checkups, blood tests and flu shots. She doesn’t have to go; she still has her normal health insurance provided by the state. But at the clinic, she has no co-pays, no deductibles. It’s free.
That’s the case for the Helena area’s 11,000 state workers and their dependents. With an appointment, patients wait just a couple minutes to see a doctor. Visitation is more than 75 percent higher than initial estimates.
Physicians are paid by the hour, not by the number of procedures they prescribe like many in the private sector. The state is able to buy supplies at lower prices.
The public employees are happy. The healthcare providers are happy. The public employees are healthier. The state is saving money—possibly as much as half of what it would otherwise be paying. What’s not to like?
Critics of the approach have generally taken one of two tacks. Either they object on philosophical grounds, i.e. the state just shouldn’t be in the healthcare business, or they make a sort of “free rider” argument, i.e. the state is saving money but local hospitals are making up the difference by charging more to people other than public employees. I’m not sure that either argument holds water.
Maybe Montana’s circumstances are unique but I think this is an experiment that bears repeating elsewhere.