The Billings Outpost

Health center discussed

By PHIL DRAKE - Montana Watchdog

HELENA – Health care providers considering operating Montana’s first health center solely for state employees pitched a slew of questions Feb. 23 regarding the proposal to state officials who have set up an ambitious deadline to have the facility open by the end of the year.

Nearly two dozen people representing at least a dozen providers either attended the meeting in Helena or participated by telephone, asking questions about wording in the proposal or pointing out pitfalls to state officials.

The state will respond to written requests by March 19.

The participants inlcuded St. Peter’s Hospital, Walgreens, Cigna, Montana Primary Care, Benefis, the West Montana Clinic, the Cooperative Health Center and Billings Clinic.

On Feb. 9, Gov. Brian Schweitzer proposed the clinic saying it would be better than the existing health care system and improve the quality of life for state employees, legislators and their dependents. He also said it decrease health care costs as well.

Schweitzer told reporters such a plan would eventually benefit nearly 12,000 employees. He said the development of the health center would come from existing funds. The new system would pay its startup costs the first year and save the state $1 million in its second year.

The center would have to offer primary care physician services, including preventive medicine and treating sick patients.But the state would negotiate costs with providers. According to the proposal, the first health center location would be in Helena, but a statewide presence is desired and would likely occur over several years.

Leaders of the state’s employee unions expressed support for the idea, but some said the services would have to benefit employees statewide, not just those living in the proximity of Helena.

Schweitzer said he did not need the approval of the Legislature to set up the clinic, but House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, said that was likely not the case and added it was not proper for the state to be involved in such a project. Two employees from the Legislative Services Division attended Thursday’s meeting.

Milburn told Montana Watchdog on Thursday legislative staff has not been given a lot of information and he said he would be having meetings within the next couple days to discuss the proposal.

“One of the biggest questions is (that) he cannot appropriate money without coming to us (the Legislature) to do that,” he said, adding maybe the governor would shift funds.

The deadline for the Request for Proposals to be filed with the state is April 9. with the contract to be awarded June 15.The clinic will open Dec. 17, shortly before Schweitzer’s second and last

term as governor ends. Russ Hill, administrator for the Health Care and Benefits Division within the state Department of Administration, said 34,000 people were covered in the state employee benefit plan and there were 5,100 state employees in Helena.

“We’re really looking at designing something that has not been done in the past,” he said, adding the state also wanted a long-term partner who would work beyond the three-year contract.

State officials said they are looking for a 5,000-6,000-square-foot building near the capitol in Helena to house the clinic. They said the state would lease the building.

Kate McIvor, executive director of the Cooperative Health Center, said a stipulation in the proposal that the operator must have had experience running an on-site workplace health center would knock not only her organization out of the process, but St. Peter’s as well.

Hill suggested she submit that as a written comment.

To read the request for proposal, go to: The timeline schedule is on page 4 of the request.


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