The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

May 2, 2013

Blue Earth County to hire staff to handle Obamacare changes



Low-income people will still be covered under Medicaid, known as Medical Assistance in Minnesota, and that program is being expanded to reach people well above the federal poverty line. Many Minnesotans eligible for MinnesotaCare, the state-subsidized program for lower-income working people, will soon be having their eligibility checked by county-based workers rather than state employees.

The projection in Blue Earth County is 1,552 new cases. With case managers in the county handling roughly 250 cases each, the county would seem to need more than the three new employees being planned.

Claussen said the intent is to start with three and reassess staffing needs later in the year. Some counties are predicting that after the initial wave of applicants, staffing needs will decline — possibly even returning to current levels.

County commissioners had different predictions about how the new insurance exchange would work. Commissioner Mark Piepho, paraphrasing one U.S. senator involved in the creation of the Affordable Care Act, worried that implementation could be “a train wreck.”

Board Chairman Drew Campbell wondered if understanding the insurance exchanges might be more similar to junior high school algebra. Campbell said he recalled a “deer in the headlights” reaction when first looking at algebra equations but learned, after sitting down with someone who understood it, that algebra made sense.

“It’s not as difficult as it sometimes sounds like from the outside,” Campbell said.

The Affordable Care Act will provide federal funding for 75 percent of the salaries for county workers who handle applicant eligibility for at least the first two years of the program — and that applies to all 21 of Blue Earth County’s existing eligibility workers along with the three new staffers. Currently, the federal reimbursement is 50 percent.

“It does buy us some time for this transition, so it’s good news,” Claussen said.

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