Montana's State-Run Free Clinic Sees Early Success
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.
The state contracts with a private company to run the facility and pays for everything — wages of the staff, total costs of all the visits. Those are all new expenses, and they all come from the budget for state employee healthcare.
Even so, division manager Russ Hill says it's actually costing the state $1,500,000 less for healthcare than before the clinic opened.
"Because there's no markup, our cost per visit is lower than in a private fee-for-service environment," Hill says.
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.
Bottom line: a patient's visit to the employee health clinic costs the state about half what it would cost if that patient went to a private doctor. And because it's free to patients, hundreds of people have come in who had not seen a doctor for at least two years.
Hill says the facility is catching a lot, including 600 people who have diabetes, 1,300 people with high cholesterol, 1,600 people with high blood pressure and 2,600 patients diagnosed as obese. Treating these conditions early could avoid heart attacks, amputations, or other expensive hospital visits down the line, saving the state more money.