Auto Dealer’s Approach to Health Insurance Increases Employees and Profits
LAKELAND, Fla. — As American workers struggle to manage rising health care costs, a Lakeland auto dealership has developed a new way to try to close the door on higher costs.
“It had everything to do with the price of insurance for our employees and the lack of benefits they were getting,” said Greg Balasco, owner of Lakeland Auto Mall.
After watching prices skyrocket all the time, Balasco was fed up.
“Every year we had to struggle with the increase in bonuses that I had to pass on to the employees,” Balasco explained.
So, just like cars are redesigned when they have a problem, Balasco decided to go back to the drawing board to design a solution.
Instead of the dealership continuing with one of the big insurance companies like Blue Cross or Aetna, Liz Antaya, the dealership’s benefits advisor helped him create an employer-sponsored insurance plan.
“Health is normally the second largest expense after payroll on any company’s budget,” Antaya explained. “We can provide better medical care for your employees at a lower cost.”
Adapting to their needs, Antaya created an on-site doctor option for the dealership every two weeks so that employees did not have to miss work or wait for an appointment.
“We like to say the days of Marcus Welby. So we cut out what we call the middleman by going straight,” Antaya said. “Patients have 30 to 60 minute appointments, and they can see the doctor whenever they want. They have access to him 24/7. He gives them their cell phone.”
Dr. Christopher Salud, direct primary care physician and dealership physician, said he appreciates the new way of caring for employees.
“It comes down to practicing medicine the way you envisioned it when you became a doctor,” Dr. Salud said. “And that’s getting to know people, spending time with people and really helping them instead of coming in and seeing, you know, patient after patient and not being able to spend time with people.”
And, it’s not just about taking care of their physical health either.
“I would say with every new patient visit, mental health, mental health history is something we’re going to address,” he said.
With traditional insurance, Salud treated up to 4,000 patients a year. But now, with self-managed plans, he only sees 400 to 600 patients because he’s paid directly by the employer, a specific monthly fee, per employee, almost like a gym membership.
Even though they have full 24/7 access to him, he said it was manageable.
“A lot of doctors say, ‘Well, my God, maybe I don’t want my patients to have 24/7 access to me? ‘” Salud said. “But once you get to know the patients, and they know they have access to you, they don’t call you for little things. is much easier to solve.”
Seller Mike Kuykendall said the new arrangement has been good for his family and saved them money.
“I’ve seen the doctor many times. And he’s been very helpful to me and my wife as well,” Kuykendall said. “This is the first year that our premium payouts have gone down. So while that saves the business, it also saves us.”
Having a primary care physician at the dealership every two weeks saves Kuykendall from having to leave and wait at a doctor’s office.
“You can schedule your appointment during your work day. When the time comes, take your lunch break, walk across the street to the apartment building, see the doctor, get back to work,” Kuykendall explained.
For the company, the savings from a commercial plan to a self-directed plan can be substantial, sometimes between 20% and 60%.
Balasco said cost savings, along with better health care for his staff, are the reason he thinks he’s attracting the best employees and keeping them on his staff.
“If we’re taking care of them, if we’re helping them be healthy, if we’re helping them make good medical decisions, then our retention has to be bigger. It has to be bigger,” Balasco said.
Employees like Kuykendall agree.
“The quality of care we’re getting, I think it’s better than we’ve ever had,” he said.
There’s more to Balasco’s plan than just the doctor. They also have a service called “Nurse Navigator”. If Dr. Salud cannot resolve a specific health concern, employees can use the company’s nurse navigator and call a 1-800 number where a registered nurse refers them to a specialist.
This service is also free for the employee, paid by the employer, if he has chosen a doctor recommended by the nurse.
Anyone can have their own self-directed healthcare plan and use a primary care physician for as little as $85 per month. Here’s more information on how a self-directed healthcare plan works.