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Southern Prairie Community Care selected for statewide pilot program

WILLMAR - A consortium of 12 rural counties, including Kandiyohi County, has been selected for a three-year pilot project that could serve as a state and national model for how services are provided to people receiving government-funded medical care.

Southern Prairie Community Care was notified late last week that the Minnesota Department of Human Services had selected it for the exclusive project.

"This will be the first model of its kind in the United States, so there'll be a lot of eyes watching it," said Kandiyohi County Commissioner Jim Butterfield, during the board meeting Tuesday in Willmar.

"This is a huge milestone," said Commissioner Doug Reese.

The project will be implemented in January.

The 12 counties have been meeting for years to develop a system that could serve as an alternative to the Medicaid managed care program offered by the state through contracts with insurance plans such as UCare and BluePlus.

The counties approved a joint powers agreement in 2012 and since then the planning sessions intensified as Southern Prairie prepared a response to the request for proposal the state sought for the pilot project.

It's not known how many other groups submitted applications but Southern Prairie was optimistic they would be selected, said Ann Stehn, director of the Kandiyohi County Human Services Department.

Being chosen as the pilot project was a "critical piece that was very strategic in our plan," said Stehn. "This is the linchpin."

Southern Prairie's plan involves coordination and communication between a wide range of players including social workers, medical providers, mental health care providers, nursing homes, clinics and hospitals who will be working to provide more efficient services to clients receiving Medical Assistance, the state's Medicaid program for low-income families, seniors or people with disabilities.

It will be different than the one-size-fits-all type of care typically found in the Medical Assistance managed-care programs that often send people to expensive emergency rooms rather than primary healthcare providers.

Butterfield said the government has been "writing checks to insurance companies for the Medicaid population" without really knowing what the money was being spent on and if it improved the health of the client or if it created a system of repeated trips to ERs and hospitals.

The pilot project is designed to meet the special needs shared by the rural communities in the 12-county area -- such as poverty, obesity, diabetes and physical inactivity -- and improve the "health and wellness of our residents," according to information on the Southern Prairie Community Care website. The intention is to improve that quality of life by "facilitating the integration of services and supports provided throughout our community."

Stehn said the 12 counties have excellent health care now but the coordinated care program will let the "left hand and the right hand" know what they're both doing for the client.

The goal of Southern Prairie is to provide better care for less than the benchmark costs under the managed care system.

During the three-year pilot project, the financial risks to Southern Prairie will be minimal because the managed care programs will initially be involved and claims won't be paid out by the county group, said Stehn.

During this "no-risk environment," Southern Prairie will be able to demonstrate options for better outcomes at less cost, she said.

Whether Southern Prairie continues after the pilot project concludes and is used as a model for other communities to follow will be determined when the three-year trial period is over and the data have been reviewed.

Southern Prairie Community Care includes the counties of Kandiyohi, Chippewa, Yellow Medicine, Lincoln, Lyon, Redwood, Murray, Cottonwood, Jackson, Rock and Nobles.

In other action Tuesday, the board approved a $2,500 property tax abatement for Peaceful Thymes of Atwater that will be spread out over a five-year period. The abatement will cover improvement costs the business incurred during a move and expansion to include home improvement materials following the 2011 fire in downtown Atwater that destroyed several businesses, including the hardware store.

Carolyn Lange

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

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