Trucking Firm ArcBest Opens Its Own Clinic as Antidote to Rising Health Care Costs

by Marty Cook  on Monday, May. 19, 2014 12:00 am  

Rich Krutsch (left), director of ArcBest's human resources program administration, and Dr. Shawn Miller, the clinic’s family practice physician.

Rich Krutsch said his company’s health care clinic is neither a quick fix nor a cheap one.

Krutsch is the director of human resources program administration for ArcBest Corp. of Fort Smith — formerly known as Arkansas Best Corp. — and is ArcBest’s point man for the recently opened company clinic. The clinic, less than one-half mile from the ArcBest headquarters on Old Greenwood Road, opened a month ago.

When it opened, Krutsch’s biggest concern was that it wouldn’t be used enough to justify the expense. The first-month results have alleviated those fears.

“It has been very, very positive,” Krutsch said. “Our goal is to have no or very limited waiting time over there. We don’t have a very large waiting room because we don’t want to keep people over there.

“They were extremely busy starting off. That has smoothed out now.”

A few years ago, ArcBest began to research how to control rising health care costs and handle the effects of the federal Affordable Care Act. Krutsch said the discussions kept returning to the idea of an employee-dedicated clinic that would be free to all workers on the company’s health care plan.

Krutsch said there are about 1,200 ArcBest employees in the Fort Smith region and a similar number of covered dependents. The question, though, was if ArcBest paid a clinic to treat those employees for no out-of-pocket fees, would the expense be justified through long-term savings and better health?

ArcBest is betting it will.

ArcBest contracted with IMWell Health of Fort Smith, a company that has opened 14 such clinics in Oklahoma and Arkansas during the past eight years. IMWell opened the clinic just down the street from ArcBest’s headquarters and installed a family practitioner, Dr. Shawn Miller.

ArcBest employees can use the clinic for no charge, and covered dependents get access for a $15 fee. IMWell officials said ArcBest pays about $600,000 a year for the service.

“They have some history here so we could tell how they operated, what their philosophy was,” Krutsch said of IMWell. “It matched up with what we were trying to do.”

Dan Parker, CEO of IMWell, said primary care expense is about 10 percent of health care costs. But spending money on primary care can save a company money down the road, Parker said.

“Everyone knows if a patient has good primary care they are going to be less costly and a healthier, more productive worker through the reduction in health care costs and fewer ER visits,” Parker said.

Six hundred thousand dollars isn’t loose change, even for a company like ArcBest, but Krutsch said the upfront payment is a drop in the bucket compared with the health care expense that truly crushes the bottom line.

“The cost in our health care is hospitalization stays,” Krutsch said. “That is the driver, the large claims. That is where the costs are. If we reduce that, get to the cause of those hospitalization stays, that’s where the benefit is.”

Krutsch said ArcBest was worried the ACA would complicate primary care access by overloading existing clinics, and the company clinic was opened to address those concerns. Krutsch said that when workers get sick or otherwise need medical service, they may not pursue health care because of the hassle of making an appointment.

Those individuals who get health care from whatever provider is available might not get the best care because of the inconsistency of seeing different doctors each visit, Krutsch said. A company clinic gives employees access to the same doctor with less aggravation.

“We found that a lot of our employees didn’t have primary care providers,” Krutsch said. “If they needed care, they called around to see who had the shortest line. That’s where they went. I think acute care providers do a great job, but they don’t have the resources available to do a deeper dive that we can with this clinic.”

Miller said an ArcBest employee came into the clinic last week with an illness, and he told Miller he would not have gone to a doctor if the company clinic had not been available. The easy access, and no fee, made it worth the man’s while to get checked out, and Miller said an illness that could have become worse without treatment was taken care of.

“People normally do not address [issues] until it’s too late or it’s an emergency,” Miller said. “They’re more willing to address it [with the clinic]. When people have access to care and someone to be an advocate for their health care, it is always going to turn to a better outcome. Having access to health care is always beneficial.”

When Krutsch was helping research ArcBest’s health care initiatives, he discovered the company had a meticulously planned program for truck maintenance: Spending money before a long trip to make sure a vehicle’s engine is working well and the tires are properly inflated will most likely result in fewer problems on the road.

“We had an 84-page manual on periodic maintenance of tractors, but, on people, we were lacking,” Krutsch said. “The farther we got into it, the more we saw the need for the holistic approach for employee wellbeing. We think we can do this on a cost-effective basis as it is, but we think there is a lot of value out there as we start improving health results over time.”

Krutsch said employees who are based outside the area are encouraged to use the clinic when they are in Fort Smith. About one-third of ArcBest’s nonunion employees work in the Fort Smith area.

Krutsch said the company would like to address the similar health care needs of employees not in Fort Smith, but the logistics of that are harder to manage. Union employees are covered under the union’s health care plan.

“The issue with establishing clinics at outlying locations is you need a density of about 1,000 employees to make it functional, where it makes economic sense,” Krutsch said. “We don’t have that density anywhere but here.”

The metrics that will prove conclusively whether the clinic is a good financial idea or not won’t be known for years, Krutsch said. That doesn’t change the fact that ArcBest believes it is a good idea.

“It’s a win for us and it’s a win for our employees,” Krutsch said. “That feels good to us.”

 

 

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