Healthcare clinic costs come into question

An increase in billing expenses incurred by the group operating Hays CISD’s Wellness Encouraged through Lifelong Learning (WELL) Clinic could force the district to take on more of the burden to provide the service.

But district leaders fear a possible increase in co-payment fees could become a barrier for some students who use the clinic.

Discussion camp up Aug. 21 as trustees debated a resolution on using local funds to subsidize up to $6,000 from August to December to offset the sliding-scale cost of the program. District leaders could vote on the resolution Thursday.

Hays CISD’s WELL Clinic, which was created in 2001, provides low-cost healthcare options for district students and their siblings. The clinic offers pediatric health services, including wellness checks, sick visits, immunizations, physicals and asthma treatments. The clinic also provides behavioral health services related to depression, anxiety and family counseling.

Hays CISD partnered with CommuniCare in 2015 in order to include privately insured students. The clinic is located at Simon Middle School.

Per an agreement, the district pays a portion to offset costs charged by CommuniCare. Hays CISD set aside $10,000 for the program.

As part of the program, the district picks up $20 of eligible students’ co-pay. Those students and their siblings would only pay $25.

However, Ann Dixon, Hays CISD interim superintendent, said CommuniCare would only continue the agreement through December.

The reason is the rising cost of billing expenses. Dixon said CommuniCare had close to $13,000 in billing expenses last year.

As a result, the district is now taking a piecemeal approach to its partnership.

But once the district pays its portion of the $6,000, students may be on the hook for the full $45 co-pay.

Trustee Bert Bronaugh said discussion has been raised about the increase in co-pay, and how a few dollars will keep people away.

Bronough said reaching out to the community to find a partner to help fund the program could be a solution. Trustee Esperanza Orosco said there could be a partner that could work with the district to offset the cost.

“We’ve run into a conundrum. We’ve drawn a fine line in educating our kids and having them at school to begin with,” Bronaugh said. “Keeping them healthy is part of that. We have to remember it’s part of our task as educators.

Trustee Teresa Tobias asked whether it’s still cost effective for Hays CISD. She cited utilization rates of the WELL Clinic, which Dixon said has dropped off in recent years.

But Dixon said she didn’t think the district could operate a full scale clinic on its own again.

One of the issues is cities and public and community healthcare groups are “pushing”  low-cost clinics to school districts due to budget constraints, Dixon said. She added that at some point, “we can’t carry everybody.”

“Everyone is competing for our educational dollars,” Dixon said. “I think we need to decide at some point, is healthcare part of our responsibility? Or getting salaries up for our best teachers?”

One possible solution may be for the district to market itself, Dixon said. WIth several healthcare providers in the area, including Seton, St. David’s and Baylor Scott and White, the need to find a healthcare provider to take the distric’s responsibility could be the next step.

“I can’t believe there isn’t someone out there that would add this to a system they already have,” Dixon said. “It would be automatic clientele.”

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