Onsite Health Center
For years, Dennis Meaney watched his union members’ health decline while health plan costs continued to climb. He witnessed the negative trend firsthand in his role as business manager and financial secretary for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 38 (IBEW Local 38), which represents electrical contractors across the Cleveland area.
Even with covered health benefits, he says, members put off getting their annual physicals and bypassed routine screenings. Moreover, almost a third of IBEW Local 38 workers identify as high-risk or have a chronic condition requiring ongoing medical care.
“I have a fiduciary responsibility as a trustee to make sure these [healthcare] plans solve problems,” Meaney says. “We couldn’t keep throwing money at it, taking more money out of our paychecks to pay for healthcare. We had to take a different approach.”
In 2018, Meaney’s colleague, Terry Joyce, business manager for the Building Laborers’ Union Local 310, invited him to meet with his union’s shared benefits consultant to learn how partnering with Marathon Health could provide solutions to upgrade their health plan offerings and connect members with free- and low-cost primary care, behavioral health, physical therapy and other wellness services.
“It was an easy sell for the [IBEW Local 38] trustees, because of the focus on wellness,” Meaney says. “We proceeded because our people weren’t going to the doctor regularly when they should be getting checked, or they were waiting too long before going to a doctor — we could see the side effects. The focus on the wellness is what drove us to engage with Marathon Health.”
Partnering with Marathon Health
Meaney, Joyce and other union officers worked with Marathon Health to launch two dedicated health centers for their union contractors and covered family members. Since opening health centers, 49% of the high-risk or chronic condition workers have engaged with Marathon Health services. Of workers with Diabetes and those with Asthma, 79% and 96%, respectively, now meet the standard of care, the level of care necessary to manage chronic diseases. In the United States, chronic diseases cost US employers $36.4 billion a year due to employees missing work.
Marathon Health provides an advanced primary care model focused on treating the whole patient, including physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being. Providers customize care delivery based on individual preferences, values and goals using shared decision-making strategies.
Through the Marathon Health partnership, union members and their families gain access to a suite of in-person and virtual wellness services, including free medications, biometric screenings, health coaching, referral guidance for specialty care, and more. Union members rate their level of satisfaction with their health clinic visits at 96%.
Meaney says offering union members convenient access to mental health and physical therapy is important, so Marathon Health brought on full-time specialists for both.
Incentives Boost Engagement with Clinic Services
Getting members to try new health services can prove challenging, and in many cases, employers create incentive programs as an extra nudge for members to engage with the new benefits.
“We rolled it out slowly, encouraging people to start getting their annual checkups and preventive care,” Meaney says. “We developed two different tiers of deductibles and copays. If members get an annual physical, the better their deductibles and copays.”
Members who completed their physicals at one of the Marathon Health Centers also received a $100 grocery gift card.
He adds, “I like to tell people, with our Marathon Health partnership, ‘we’re not making it more expensive if you don’t go, we’re making it cheaper if you do.’”
While the incentive programs reward members for making healthy choices, Meaney says they also help initiate that first touchpoint with clinic services, and once members experience exceptional care, they become repeat, engaged patients.
“Many of these young people don’t have doctors, because they don’t go,” he says. “This is a long-term plan, and we hope they’ll make Marathon their clinic and won’t need to look for a doctor beyond the center.”
Physical Therapy Keeps Union Members on the Job
Electrical work takes a toll on the body. Meaney says providing a dedicated physical therapist proved to be highly popular for their union members, so much so Marathon Health added a second therapist to keep up with member demand.
“These are physical jobs,” he says. “If you can’t move, you’re not going to work. Our two therapists are rock stars, and they’ve helped a lot of people with knee, shoulder and other injuries.”
Meaney says members use their physical therapy benefits because they don’t require driving to another facility or searching for a therapist in their network—members simply walk down the hall.
“Not needing a referral and unlimited physical therapy visits is huge for our members,” he says.
Behavioral Health Services Help Members Navigate Mental Health
During initial negotiations, Meaney says Marathon Health offered to provide a dedicated behavioral health specialist, a factor that played a key role in the union’s decision to choose the health center provider.
IBEW Local 38’s ability to provide the behavioral health services in-house—similar to their physical therapy offering—increases utilization because members don’t need a referral, or have to search for a provider.
“If somebody goes in and talks to a doctor and shares something with them, they’re not necessarily going to make another phone call,” he says. “It’s just much easier for the doctor at Marathon to say, ‘You know our Marathon Health Behavioral Specialist is right over here. Why don’t I go get her, and you can talk to her and set up an appointment.’”
Meaney says the behavioral health services option played a critical role in helping members through the pandemic. When lockdowns took hold, Marathon Health seamlessly pivoted to virtual visits, so Meaney’s union members maintained communication during unprecedented times.
“She was doing televisits for anybody who wanted to call in and talk. She found out that it might even be a better way to go for some people because they’re more comfortable talking from their own living room or on the computer,” he says.
Partnership Creates Healthy Outcomes, Lower Costs
In addition to seeing significant healthcare savings since engaging with Marathon Health services, Meaney hears frequently from members about how the clinic helped them make life-changing improvements.
“People have come up to me and said, ‘I found out I have high blood pressure — I had no idea,’’’ he says. “And these are relatively young people.”
Meaney shares a significant experience with a co-worker, “He only went to the doctor because he wanted to get into the better wellness tier, and found out he had prostate cancer. He had no idea and said, ‘I never would’ve gone to the doctor if it hadn’t been for the wellness program.’”
Now three years into their partnership with Marathon Health, Meaney says he’s more than satisfied with the services, so much so he’s actively promoting the benefit to other union leaders across Northeast Ohio.
“We’re really happy with our decision. Most people think Marathon Health is great.”