Newspaper article The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT)

Low-Cost Health Clinics in Place in Billings, Laurel, Missoula

Newspaper article The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT)

Low-Cost Health Clinics in Place in Billings, Laurel, Missoula

Article excerpt

HELENA - Gov. Brian Schweitzer wants to create low-cost health clinics that will treat covered employees for cheap, save money and still provide great care.

Like for $10 a visit, as they do at the CostCare Clinic in Missoula?

Or maybe for free, like at the MiCare clinics in Billings and Laurel?

As owners of these clinics will tell you, they're already doing what the governor is proposing - and it's working.

"This is really common sense meets innovation," said Jarrod Weenum, MiCare business operations manager for EBMS, a Billings-based manager of health care benefits. "We make sure there are no gaps in care, we're doing wellness and prevention and we're building a healthier, more productive workforce."

The Schweitzer administration is seeking bids to operate a low-cost clinic in Helena that will cater strictly to state employees, with a minimal co-pay for patients. It hopes to award the contract and get the clinic opened by December.

The idea, said the governor, is to create a center that offers easy access to primary care and prevents its patients from getting more severely ill, thus saving on overall, long-term costs. And, it aims to keep the cost for patients low, in part by having salaried staff who don't get paid more if they order more procedures.

The same philosophy is behind the CostCare and. MiCare clinics.

Carol Bridges, a physician and co-owner of the CostCare clinics, worked at a hospital-owned urgent care clinic in Missoula before opening the clinics.

"We saw so many people coming in and using the emergency room and urgent care as their primary care," she said. "They were walking in for strep throat and getting charged $350. ...

"We just started to ask questions: What do things really cost? We started doing some research and were amazed at how much things didn't cost."

Bridges, another physician and a physician assistant decided in 2007 to open CostCare, first as a walk-in clinic. It now has two other offices, including a primary-care center where patients can seethe same doctor and get chronic-disease management and other services.

CostCare now has arrangements with several local employers, including the city of Missoula and the Missoula public schools. Workers at these businesses, which have self-insured health plans, pay only $10 to visit CostCare, and the health plan pays any extra costs through their plan administrator, Allegiance Benefit Plan Management of Missoula. …

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