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Kandiyohi County will pay state health insurance premiums for 'poorest of poor'

WILLMAR -- To help some of the county's poorest and sickest residents from slipping through the health care cracks, the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday to pay a $4 monthly insurance premium to enroll those individuals in MinnesotaCare for six months.

The premium will make it easier for low-income adults who had qualified for General Assistance Medical Care to enroll in MinnesotaCare.

It's a "small investment" to make sure people are getting their medical needs met while ensuring that local medical facilities get "somewhat compensated" for providing services, said Sue Leal, Kandiyohi County family services supervisor.

Most neighboring counties have taken similar action to pay the premiums, which amounts to $24 per individual for six months, said Jay Kieft, Kandiyohi County family services director.

General Assistance Medical Care, a more comprehensive health care program than MinnesotaCare, was eliminated by Gov. Tim Pawlenty as a budget-cutting move.

GAMC participants -- low-income individuals aged 21 to 64 without dependent children -- can either enroll in MinnesotaCare or obtain health care at a coordinated care facility that receives reimbursements for provided services.

But those care facilities are all in the metro area, which makes it difficult for Kandiyohi County residents to access care, said Kieft.

And although $4 a month MinnesotaCare premium is minimal, it is too high for many to afford. Qualifying individuals can make a maximum of $667 a month in gross revenue.

Because a significant percentage of the individuals are severely and persistently mentally ill, it's "vital" that they maintain health insurance, doctor visits and prescription medications, Kieft said.

Without that care, the individuals are at a greater health risk and the community ends up with greater expenses to treat more severe problems. And without the insurance, local health care facilities are still providing the services but are not getting reimbursed, Kieft said.

Paying the premiums will also simplify the paperwork for the county.

Commissioner Richard Larson said if the county doesn't pay the premiums now, individuals could get sicker and require more health care that will cost the county more money later. "It'll bite us in the backside," said Larson, adding that the decision to pay the premiums was a "no brainer."

Because the state mandated that counties pay that premium during the first six-month transition from General Assistance Medical Care to MinnesotaCare -- a time period that has now expired, Kandiyohi County already had money budgeted, said Leal. There's about $3,000 left in that fund.

Because it's not known how many of the remaining 288 GAMC county participants will sign up for MinnesotaCare, it's not known exactly what the final bill will be, but Leal said it will likely exceed $3,000.

In other action:

- Efforts to change a state interpretation of a federal transportation reimbursement rule have failed, which could jeopardize the county volunteer driver program that transports elderly residents to medical appointments. The rules prevent volunteers from being reimbursed for "no load" miles.

That means a driver who takes someone to Minneapolis for a check-up gets reimbursed for the drive there, but if the patient is admitted to the hospital overnight, the driver is not reimbursed for the solo trip home or for the solo trip back to the hospital the next day to retrieve the patient.

Since the rule went into effect a few months ago, Kandiyohi County has been picking up the tab to reimburse those no-load miles. Kieft said that "could be costing us a good bit of money."

A full report of those costs will be presented prior to the county's preliminary budget-setting process in August.

- Brenda Sondrol, who works with minor parents in the county, said a workshop will be presented from 1-3:30 p.m. on Aug. 5 on the topic of teen dating violence.

Carolyn Lange

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

(320) 894-9750