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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Health

Jonathan Serrie

Atlanta, GA

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Lowe’s: Home Improvement and Heart Surgery

March 19, 2010 - 7:51 AM | by: Jonathan Serrie

When Donald Roberts (photo on the left) undergoes open heart surgery next month to repair an aneurysm, the home improvement store employee will not have to meet any deductible or make any co-payment. The 64-year-old home improvement store employee will be the first to take advantage of a new partnership between Lowe’s and the Cleveland Clinic.

“The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for me,” said Roberts, who works as a coordinator in the installed sales department of the Lowe’s store in Port Orange, Florida.

The elective program, announced February 15, is available to all full-time Lowe’s employees and dependents enrolled in the company’s self-insured medical plan — an estimated 180 thousand people in all. It covers most major heart surgeries performed at the Cleveland Clinic, which U.S. News and World Report has ranked first in the nation for cardiac care for the past 15 consecutive years.

“The thing that excites me most about the Cleveland Clinic is the message that we’re sending to our employees,” said Bob Ihrie, Lowe’s senior vice president in charge of benefits. “We’re giving you the best quality care available in the United States and we’re giving it to you for free.”

In addition to avoiding deductibles and co-pays the program covers travel expenses associated with the trip to Cleveland, Ohio for the patient and a companion. Ihrie estimates the program helps the employee avoid $5,000 in out of pocket expenses.

“This really speaks to our employees, most of whom are $15 an hour employees,” Ihrie said. “This operation is one that can bankrupt them if they don’t have insurance. And even if they have Lowe’s insurance, coming up with $5,000 to pay for this is an incredible financial stress.”

“The best thing about the partnership, obviously, is its financial implication,” said heart patient Roberts. “It takes all that pressure off you. I think it really gives you a better chance to recover.”

Lowe’s negotiated flat rate prices on specific procedures with the Cleveland Clinic. “Even with the incentives, it will be a break even in the short run for Lowe’s,” Ihrie said. “In the long run, it will be a better than break even. So, we think this is really the future of where health care is going.”

Based on prior insurance claims, company officials estimate 125 people will be eligible for the new heart surgery program each year. Ihrie said in the future, Lowe’s and the Cleveland Clinic may consider expanding their partnership to include back and spine treatments.

The program, the first of its kind in the nation, was the result of two and a half years of planning and discussions about ways to control rising health care costs, while improving employee access to quality treatment.

In the early days, Lowe’s explored the possibility of “medical tourism” — where patients travel to other countries to receive treatment from US-trained doctors at a lower cost. But company officials ultimately decided they could find a more effective solution at home. (For more on that, please click on the related video).

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