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Medical assistance enrollment spikes in Wadena County


Medical assistance enrollment has increased 34 percent in Wadena County since the beginning of the year, due to implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Leota Lind, chief executive officer of South Country Health Alliance (SCHA), appeared before the Wadena County Board on May 20 to report on enrollment trends and the overall budget picture for the health insurance provider. SCHA serves 12 Minnesota counties and provides coverage for most of Wadena County’s medical assistance enrollees. Although counties administer the programs, the state and federal governments pay for medical assistance.

“We have seen significant growth in our membership during the first quarter,” Lind said. Throughout its network, SCHA enrollment has increased 36 percent since December, from 22,765 cases to 31,835 in May. In Wadena County, it’s gone from 1,607 to 2,154.

Much of the growth, Lind said, is from enrollees in MinnesotaCare, the state subsidized health insurance, switching to medical assistance because the federal Medicaid expansion means they’re now eligible for it.

“That’s really where we’ve seen the impact,” she said.  

Lind said she expects enrollment to continue to increase throughout the year, albeit at a more gradual pace.

The ACA, she said, made it difficult to develop a budget, because “we didn’t know what to project for anticipated growth.”

Another wild card: As the newly insured seek care for conditions that were previously untreated, it’s hard to predict medical costs.

“We don’t know how many of these individuals have previously not had access to health care,” Lind said. “There are so many unknowns.”

The CEO pointed to SCHA’s surplus, which has increased from about $8.3 million in 2009 to more than $24.2 million last year.

“That will give us a stronger ability to weather the storm if we do have those challenges ahead of us,” Lind said. “Right now, I feel good about the financial position the organization is in.”

Commissioner Rodney Bounds commended Lind. A few years ago, when SCHA faced serious budget challenges, the board considered leaving the organization, but new leadership “turned it around,” Bounds said.

SCHA’s pay-for-performance standards that maximize the value of health care dollars deserve particular praise, said Commissioner Jim Hofer, who noted, “South Country is leading the pack in all our payers.”

Commissioner Ron Noon said he’s glad the organization is promoting wellness programs. “It’s better to be proactive than reactive,” Noon said.

Later in the meeting, commissioners approved a delegation agreement with SCHA for a community connector in the public health department and for care coordination duties in the public health and human services departments.

The board also accepted a $68,000 Statewide Health Improvement Program grant and agreed to a contract with Bemidji-based Stellher Human Services for clinical supervision of the county’s case managers. The company already provides those services for the Wadena County children’s mental health program

Resurfaced roads

In June, about seven miles of county roads around Huntersville will be resurfaced.

At its meeting May 20, the board awarded a $1,136,187 bid - 12.9 percent under budget - to Mark Sand and Gravel of Fergus Falls. The project will resurface County 18 from County 23 to County 25 and County 25 from County 18 to the Hubbard County line.

Commissioner Bill Stearns pointed out that the project was slated for last year, but contractors ran out of time.

“Are you going to be able to complete this?” Stearns asked company owner Mark Thorson.

Thorson assured the board that, as long as the weather cooperates, “everything should be buttoned up by the middle of June.”

That’s ahead of this year’s schedule, which had aimed to start the project by July 7.

County Engineer Ryan Odden said Hubbard County is also planning to resurface its portion of the highway - marked as County 13 - this summer.

Odden presented the board with the 2013 highway department report.

It showed the fund balance increased from $826,576 at the beginning of 2013 to more than $1.2 million at the end of the year.

“You went in the right direction with the fund balance,” Stearns told Odden.

Odden highlighted the town road account, a pool of state gas tax funds that the county distributes to townships.

In recent years, Odden said, the fund has grown annually by about $10,000. Last year, the 15 townships split $181,500, with allotments determined by miles of roads and population.
“It really helps,” Noon said.