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Program could provide health insurance for businesses in Meeker County

LITCHFIELD -- Small businesses in Meeker County that can't afford health insurance for their employees might be able to do so next year if a new health insurance program gets off the ground.

PrimeWest Health, a health plan owned by 13 central Minnesota counties, including Meeker County, is offering the new Values Health program to member counties who can come up with matching funds for the federal grant.

If enough people sign up for the comprehensive health care plan, a $12 million federal grant will be used to partially fund health insurance for small businesses with up to 50 employees who have not offered employee health insurance for at least 12 months prior to enrollment. Qualifying businesses cannot provide a median wage of more than $18.22 an hour.

Under the plan, up to 2,000 people could be insured for five years in the 13-county region on a first-come, first-serve basis.

On Tuesday, the Meeker County Board of Commissioners agreed to participate in the program and provide enough matching funds to cover 100 private business employees for five years.

The commissioners agreed to redirect $50,000 from an underused economic development loan fund to be used as part of the local match. The county's economic development authority is also allocating $50,000 over a five-year period and Meeker Memorial Hospital will also be contributing funds, County Administrator Paul Virnig said.

According to information from PrimeWest, the federal grant would pay $120 a month per person. The community would kick in $100 a month, employers would pay $150 to $175 a month and the employee would pay $75 to $100 a month.

Qualified individuals must work or live in a PrimeWest Health owner county, be employed by a qualified employer, not be enrolled in or have currently available health coverage except for catastrophic coverage, and not be eligible or enrolled in a subsidized health care program.

Virnig said the commissioners view participation in the program as a valid economic development opportunity that could help existing small businesses.

"This could help the ones that are here that are struggling," Virnig said. "It's a problem for these small businesses to get affordable coverage."

Having the plan available could also entice new businesses to start up in the county, he said.

According to Virnig, McLeod County has bowed out of the plan, apparently because funds for the community match weren't available. Douglas County is currently considering the plan, he said.

There needs to be at least 200 participants interested in the plan before PrimeWest will proceed, Virnig said. If the program does become a reality, Meeker County will be ready to make it available in the county.

"It is an interesting deal. We're at least keeping the door open on it," Virnig said.

In other action Tuesday, the Meeker County Commissioners approved a lengthy developer's agreement with Adams Wind Generations of Cosmos and Danielson Wind Farm of Atwater. The two developers intend to install 24 wind generators in Meeker County, near the Kandiyohi County line.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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