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Co. prepares to convert clients to Medical Assistance under expansion signed by governor

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news Willmar, 56201

Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County family services officials are gearing up for a process to expand Medical Assistance coverage to at least 360 low-income adults.

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The change is coming about because Gov. Mark Dayton signed an executive order last month for implementation of the expanded federal Medicaid program, known in Minnesota as Medical Assistance.

The expansion, which goes into effect March 1, provides $1.1 billion in federal matching funds over the next biennium. It will replace the General Assistance Medical Care program and will accept eligible clients who are currently on MinnesotaCare.

It's estimated there will be 95,000 eligible clients in Minnesota by 2012, including 12,000 who are not currently in a state health care program, according to the state Department of Human Services.

Eligible clients are adults without children in the home earning $667 a month or $8,124 a year.

Kandiyohi County currently has a total of 360 eligible clients.

As with any government program, there is considerable paperwork to complete to be enrolled in the expanded Medical Assistance program.

The state will use its computerized system to automatically convert the estimated 32,000 General Assistance Medical Care enrollees in the state over to the expanded Medical Assistance program.

That process is expected to be completed by April 1.

MinnesotaCare is the state's subsidized insurance program for low-income working adults, and there are an estimated 52,000 MinnesotaCare clients in the state to be moved to the expanded Medical Assistance. Counties will have to manually convert those clients to the system that administers Medical As-sistance.

It will take "a lot of county wo-rk," said Jay Kieft, Ka-ndiyohi Co-unty Family Services Di-rector.

Counties are expected to have that process completed by Aug. 1, but coverage will be retroactive to March 1.

In Kandiyohi County, there are 60 General Assistance Medical Care clients that will be transferred to Medical Assistance by the state. Those clients do not need to take any action to receive the new services.

But the 300 clients who are currently on MinnesotaCare will have to be manually converted by the county.

The county is still waiting for final instruction on how to do the conversion, said Sue Leal, financial assistance supervisor.

"It's going to be a process, but we don't know what the process will be," Leal said.

Despite the added office work, the end result will be "hugely positive" for local health care providers and it will provide better care for clients because the type of care offered through Medical Assistance is a better fit than MinnesotaCare, Kieft said.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said providing care through Medical Assistance is expected to save taxpayer money in the long run because clients can get local primary care for routine health issues rather than using expensive emergency room services.

"It'll help contain heath care costs, and I believe that's what the goal is," Kleindl said.

Because MinnesotaCare also had a $10,000 cap on hospitalization, local hospitals often had to write off costs that exceeded that limit. Those costs were often passed onto other hospital patients and taxpayers.

Medical Assistance coverage does not have a $10,000 hospitalization cap.

Kleindl said there may be a better option for providing health care for low-income adults in the future, "but for now, this appears to be the best solution."

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