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Kandiyohi County eyes group insurance program with 13 other Minn. counties

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WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County is working with 13 other regional counties on a proposal to develop a pilot program to provide their own group insurance plan for delivering public medical health care.

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Called the Southern Prairie Health Purchasing Alliance, the plan would allow the 14 counties to be self-insured when it comes to processing Medical Assistance coverage.

Currently, that insurance is provided by the state programs Blue Plus and UCare.

Medical As-sistance is Minnesota's Medicaid program for low-income people. Most of those enrolled get their health care through health plans.

If the new purchasing alliance is put in place in the region, it's expected to cost less, increase reimbursements to local health care providers and allow flexibility that could increase preventative care or targeted intervention that's tailored to meet the regional health care needs of residents in west central and southern Minnesota counties rather than the one-size-fits-all state plan.

Any profits would be rolled back into the system to provide direct health care benefits to residents of the counties.

The goal is to "keep people healthier and save dollars," said Kandiyohi County Public Health Director Ann Stehn, who also is serving as interim Family Services director.

To say that Kandiyohi County officials are excited about the possibility of the alliance taking hold is an understatement.

Rural accountable health care programs are an "up-and-coming thing," Kandiyohi County Board Chairman Richard Larson said. "We're on the right page."

The possibility that the group could tap into a $30 million federal grant is also appealing.

There are other county-based purchasing groups in Minnesota, including Prime West Health that includes neighboring counties Meeker and McLeod. But after those initial groups were launched in the mid-1990s with the blessing of the state Legislature, the door closed.

Larson said development of new programs was curtailed under Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration.

Gov. Mark Dayton's administration is encouraging the move to rural health care programs, Larson said. "They like this idea and they're supporting us."

Last year Hennepin and Ramsey counties were authorized to begin the lengthy paperwork process needed for state and federal regulations to develop a new type of pilot health care program that involves a partnership with health care providers and an increased emphasis on prevention.

The Southern Prairie Health group is hoping they can piggyback with that application rather than go through the modeling process themselves, which could save hundreds of thousands of dollars and about two years in time, Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl said.

Stehn said negotiations are moving faster than expected and the Department of Human Services has signaled its support for the Southern Prairie Health Purchasing Alliance.

The process is moving "with quick speed into the future," Stehn on Tuesday told the County Board of Commissioners.

If discussions continue at the current fast pace, Stehn said a pilot program could be launched this fall.

One of the steps in the process is getting local health care providers on board.

Given that reimbursements are generally higher with the county-based programs, Kleindl said local entities have expressed willingness to participate.

Regional health care facilities have also seen the success of programs like Prime West and are confident counties can deliver as good, if not better, services as the state's big insurance companies, Kleindl said.

The county is "working very hard with our state and local partners" to regulate medical costs and provide good care, Kleindl said.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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