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County purchasing health care

Published (3/28/2008)
By Patty Ostberg
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Health care public assistance enrollees in several southeast Minnesota counties would automatically default to county-based purchased health plans, under a bill approved March 26 by the House Health Care and Human Services Finance Committee.

Sponsored by Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester), HF3380 would apply to Olmsted, Winona, Houston, Fillmore and Mower counties. People who have not chosen a plan through public assistance would automatically default to the countyís plan, if health care needs arise. They would have the option to choose another plan after one year, under the bill.

It now goes to the House Finance Committee.

There would be no cost to the state because counties operate the plans, said Liebling.

The counties involved have come forward with the $4 million needed to get the purchasing plan started, said Paul Wilson, Olmsted County commissioner.

The change could have a negative financial impact on other private health plans because the city would be the favored competition by automatic default, said Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud).

Itís not automatic enrollment when itís only the people who havenít chosen a plan in the first place, Liebling said.

Currently, the Health Department rotates health plans when they assign them to uninsured people, said Brian Osberg, human services assistant commissioner. The automatic default would put the county at an advantage and they should have to compete with other plans, he said, adding that county-based purchasing is currently a health care option, and the bill isnít really needed.

Liebling said the bill is an experiment, but it should be given the chance to save money and be successful.

A companion bill, SF3031, sponsored by Sen. Ann Lynch (DFL-Rochester), awaits action by the Senate Health and Human Services Budget Division.

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