A few years ago, Wichita, Kan.-based Spirit AeroSystems, a major supplier of airplane parts to customers like Boeing, was considering moving its Oklahoma jobs offshore to reduce costs and stay competitive. Faced with the prospect of lost work, the United Auto Workers’ national leaders pitched a fix to save the company money: Give employees better primary healthcare.
The UAW knew part of Spirit’s rising costs were driven by healthcare spending. Greater access to affordable primary-care services could reduce the use of expensive specialty care and visits to the emergency department, the thinking went.
So it introduced Spirit to SolidaritUS Health, a direct primary-care provider newly formed with investment from another national labor union. And in July 2018, Spirit, SolidaritUS and the UAW local in Tulsa, representing about 1,300 Spirit employees, worked together to launch three clinics, choose clinic staff and communicate benefit changes to employees. Spirit pays for employee access to the clinics on a per-member per-month basis.
Employees can visit the doctor and take home some of the most commonly prescribed medicines with no out-of-pocket cost. If they go elsewhere for primary care, they are subject to a deductible. Each of the four health center physicians cares for no more than 1,000 patients, allowing them to dedicate more time to each patient while also offering same-day appointments and round-the-clock access by phone.
Early results have been significant. Spirit employees are going to the ED and urgent-care clinics less frequently, and health plan premiums at the company’s Oklahoma site were flat going into the 2019 plan year, said Martha Webb-Jones, Spirit’s director of human resources for Oklahoma operations. In previous years, the company health plans had experienced annual premium increases of 6% to 10%, she said.
Many employees were skeptical of the clinics at first and wondered if they’d lose quality care or privacy with the new model. But patient satisfaction surveys are off the charts, Webb-Jones said. Spirit didn’t move workers’ jobs overseas. And the company has since contracted with another provider to offer workers certain surgeries at no cost if recommended by a SolidaritUS physician.
“What people were so anxious about a year ago—the sentiment is completely the opposite today,” Webb-Jones said. “There’s pride and trust in (the clinics), and I can’t imagine ever going back.”