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County purchasing health care

Published (5/16/2008)
By Patty Ostberg
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Health care public assistance enrollees in several southeast Minnesota counties would automatically default to a specific health plan, under a bill passed 107-25 by the House May 8.

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 county’s plan, if health care needs arise. They would have the option to choose another plan after one year.

There would be no cost to the state because counties operate the plans. The counties involved have come forward with the $4 million needed to get the plan started.

The change could have a negative financial impact on private health plans because the county would be the favored competition by automatic default, said Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud). “What we need is more competition, we need at least one other plan option.”

It’s not automatic enrollment when it’s only the people who haven’t 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, assistant human services commissioner. Because county-based purchasing is currently a health care option, he said the bill isn’t really needed.

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

The bill now awaits action by the full Senate. Sen. Ann Lynch (DFL-Rochester) is the sponsor.

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