Like most private-sector companies and governmental entities, Oklahoma County has felt the grip of rapidly increasing health care costs. In fact, we saw a 51.6 percent increase in just the four-year period from 2007 through 2011.
This has been an unsustainable increase given an annual budget that grew by only one-half of 1 percent during the same time period. The county's budget board was forced to innovate. We have, and the results will ultimately save taxpayers money.
On Friday, we cut the ribbon on our new employee health clinic, which will provide every Oklahoma County employee and dependent family member the opportunity to access a primary care physician in a new clinic within blocks of our downtown county offices. The clinic provides same- or next-day appointments, examinations, treatment and in many cases prescription drugs, all without out charge to the employee or family member. There is no co-pay or deductible charge. Since there are no insurance claims to deal with, there is less demand on provider and staff time, which allows more time to be spent with the patient.
Historically, statistics reflect a $2,300 annual cost to manage the health of an employee through our provider contrasted with a $4,100 cost elsewhere. That is a 56 percent savings that can help reverse the trends we have seen to date.
We also performed a systematic review of the county's employee benefit plan and found some antiquated and unproductive provisions that were wasting precious resources. We were able to restructure our benefit plan to incentivize the regular use of preventive care and pharmaceuticals. We also found that we could actually increase benefits in a number of productive ways that encouraged wellness as opposed to treatment.
Our medical claims dropped by $965,000 in FY 12, due in large part to modifications in our benefit plan. It may take as long as three years to see any significant savings in our health care costs. However, when it does the savings will go to the bottom line and the benefits will be seen in a healthier and happier county employee workforce.
The eight elected county officers who comprise the Oklahoma County Budget Board should be congratulated for creating a health and wellness committee made up of key employees tasked with finding workable solutions to an ever-burgeoning crisis that threatened to upset the delicate balance between the taxpayers and our responsibility to spend their money efficiently and prudently.
Vaughn is chairman of the Board of Oklahoma County Commissioners.