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Kandiyohi County gears up for Medical Assistance expansion

WILLMAR -- Counties have until the end of August to complete a tedious process of converting clients from MinnesotaCare to the newly expanded Medical Assistance coverage.

It's a process that came with an 18-page list of directions from the state's Department of Human Services.

But Kandiyohi County intends to get the work done in one day.

In Kandiyohi County there are 217 cases, which include adults who are 21-64 years of age without children, to be converted from MinnesotaCare to Medical Assistance. Medical Assistance is the name the state gives its version of the federal Medicaid program.

A trial run at the county office shows it takes at least 10 minutes to manually input the data for each case, said Sue Leal, family services supervisor.

The knowledge that project needed to be done, while still maintaining regular case work, was "looming" over her staff.

"It was just something hanging over their heads," she said.

Rather than string out the work over the summer months, Leal said the office is dedicating one day -- this Thursday -- to convert all the cases.

"We're just going to get it done," she said.

Dedicating one day for this project means the entire unit will be doing nothing but converting cases. Leal said she will field phone calls for the day and handle new cases, but existing clients won't be able to talk to their case workers.

Once the project is done, the office will resume their regular work.

Family Services Director Jay Kieft said the conversion project is manageable because the staff is "being creative" in how they handle it.

The end results will be well worth it, said Kieft, because the clients will benefit from having access to better health care. It will also provide financial benefits to local medical facilities because they will be reimbursed for providing medical care.

Besides providing Medical Assistance to clients who had been on MinnesotaCare, the law signed by Gov. Mark Dayton means General Assistance Medical Care was repealed. Those cases, including 66 in Kandiyohi County, were automatically converted March 1 to Medical Assistance.

Those eligible for Medical Assistance must have income less or equal to 75 percent of the federal poverty guideline for the six-month budget period, but there is no limit on assets.

That means people who may own their own home, but not have income to pay for their own medical care, can be covered under Medical Assistance.

About 57 percent of Kandiyohi County's family service budget, or about $7.2 million, goes to pay for health care and Medical Assistance, including elderly in nursing homes.

That's in sharp contrast to the 3.5 percent that's spent on what's traditionally known as "welfare" benefits.

During a recent County Board meeting, Commissioner Dennis Peterson said most people still believe most of the county's family service money goes for "food stamps and unwed mothers."

According to Kieft, 10.2 percent of the budget serves individuals with developmental disability; 7.7 percent for adult service; 5.4 percent for food support; 4.8 percent for mental health care; 3.6 percent for child services; 2.5 percent for child care; 2.4 percent for chemical dependency; and 1.6 percent for income maintenance.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750