Software company SAS says employee health care investment is good business

Editor's note: This fall, The N&O is talking to people about the nation's health-care system: what works, what doesn't and what should be done to fix it.

There is standard employer-sponsored health insurance — and then there are SAS-provided benefits.

The Cary-based software company built an on-site health clinic, staffed with doctors and nurse practitioners. If you need to spend 45 minutes with your doctor, you may. There are massage and physical therapists available, as well as a day care center.

"You get spoiled," said Lauren Van Valkenburgh, whose husband, Scott, is a SAS employee. "You don't even wait in line."

This is the kind of insurance many people fantasize about. But even regular private insurance, the kind that involves driving across town to see the doctor and then waiting in the lobby with a roomful of sick strangers, is becoming rarer all the time. The percentage of Americans under 65 with private insurance has been dropping since 1980 — from about 79 percent to 67 percent in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

SAS has a simple reason for investing so much in the health of its employees, spokeswoman Allison Lane said: "It makes good business sense."

SAS found that the clinic saves each employee about nine hours a year, because it's not always necessary to leave the campus to see a doctor. The benefits help keep annual turnover to about 4 percent, compared to the industry average of more than 20 percent, Lane said, and they help recruit new employees as well.

In 2008, the center counted more than 40,000 patient visits, which includes employees and their family members. The Cary campus is home to 4,200 employees.

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