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Vermont’s First Shared Employer Health Center Has Opened

For those of you who read these articles religiously (numbers that won’t crash the internet, mind you), you’ll know that we’ve been talking a lot about changing the way health-care is delivered and paid for in Vermont.  The system, as has been said far too often, is broken.  And employers and employees want more from it, starting with better care and lower costs.

Well, one of the first real concrete action steps has been taken to loosen the stronghold that embedded health-care players have on employers so that these employers can take back control of the dollars they spend and provide better health-care for their employees.  And that step is that the Summit Employer Health Center opened on July 8th in South Burlington.  Four initial employers have taken the leap to jointly band together and pay for a health center open to their employees, and in some cases, employees’ spouses and dependents.

Powered by Marathon Health, the Summit Employers Health Center will offer primary care services, health coaching, dispense basic prescriptions, offer telephonic care and, soon, provide mental health counseling.  The value of this center to employees is that there will be little or no wait time for appointments and appointments will be longer.  True health coaching will be offered without preaching.  The cost to employees will be minimal to nothing.  The whole point is to eliminate barriers to care and provide care that is holistic and wellness based.  And it’s off to a rousing success.  While the Health Center is not meant to replace anyone’s primary care physician, in fact it’s meant to supplement PCPs, the center provides additional access to care and extended appointments, which are often difficult in traditional settings.

For employers, there are a number of reasons to do this.  First, it is an additional benefit to their employees and their families as outlined above - a benefit that very few Vermont employers can say they offer.  Next, the employers, with the help of Marathon Health, can design the center to meet the specific needs of their populations so that people can be the healthiest they can possibly be.  It goes without saying that a healthy workforce is a more productive workforce. 

And, finally, all these employers invested in the center not just out of caring for their employees, which it should be noted, is something that all these initial employers strongly have in common, but also that the financial investment will pay off in many ways.  First, there is the financial aspect – healthier employees and families mean less specialist visits, less in-patient stays and less prescriptions and hence lower overall health-care costs.  There is a bottom-line health-care benefit to employers.  In addition, the investment also creates good will with employees and their families and becomes a strong retention and recruitment tool.  And then there is the control – control over the delivery of both care and dollars into the Center.

Change is often incremental, but this change is a big step in breaking down some of the problems of the health-care system and puts control of