St. Louis County joins Arrowhead Health AllianceSt. Louis County commissioners on Tuesday voted to join the Arrowhead Health Alliance, hoping to improve health-care delivery for some county residents and possibly save some money.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
St. Louis County commissioners on Tuesday voted to join the Arrowhead Health Alliance, hoping to improve health-care delivery for some county residents and possibly save some money.
The county comes late in the game to the alliance, formed in 2007 between Lake, Carlton, Cook and Koochiching counties as a way to collaborate on health-care issues, especially health care for low-income residents that the counties often provide.
Commissioners unanimously voted to spend $60,000 to join the alliance, a one-time cost. Ongoing administration is paid through grants.
Ann Busche, St. Louis County’s director of Public Health and Human Services, said the alliance does not provide health insurance or health care but works with low-income residents, insurance companies and medical providers to keep people covered. She said the alliance, paid for through state and federal grants, already has seen success in several areas, including increased testing for lead poisoning in children; reducing the turnover rate among low-income residents enrolled in health-care plans; reducing inpatient mental health admissions, and reducing emergency room visits.
“It’s taken a little while, but we’re there,’’ said Commissioner Steve O’Neil, who represents eastern Duluth and who has been pushing for the county to join the
alliance since it was formed. “We all pay more when the emergency room is used as the primary source of health care because people don’t have any other coverage.”
O’Neil said membership in a regional collaborative like the alliance makes the county eligible for state and federal grants for programs the county otherwise would have to pay for on its own.
Child-support pilot project
County commissioners on Tuesday also approved joining a regional pilot project to see if there are better ways to collect child support from parents whom the court system has ordered to pay.
A statewide study recently determined the state probably should take over the job of collecting child support, concluding it would be more efficient.
But county officials question that study and are asking the state Department of Health and Human Services for permission to conduct a pilot project among seven Northeastern Minnesota counties. The local study would examine whether the counties working jointly could increase the amount of money collected and the percentage of parents paying court-ordered support.
The state is conducting its own pilot study in southeastern Minnesota of how a state takeover of the system would work, and local county officials wanted to show how they could do it.
The more money that parents pay for child support, the less the county and its taxpayers have to pay, said Ann Busche, St. Louis County director of Public Health and Human Services. She said that because her staff delivers public assistance to custodial parents, they think they can do a better job of handling child-support collection.
In 2011 there were more than 19,000 active child support cases in the seven-county region. The region generally did better than the Minnesota average in collection. St. Louis County, with nearly 12,000 cases, collects about $5.55 for every $1 spent in collections efforts, Busche noted, better than the statewide average of $4.62.
More for meals
In other action Tuesday, the board, without discussion, voted to raise the meal reimbursement allowance for themselves and all other county employees. County officials on official business now will be able to claim up to $7 for any breakfast they buy while conducting county business, up from $5; lunches go from $7 to $11; dinners go from
$13 to $23.
County administrators noted that the new rates are in line with what the U.S. General Services Administration suggests. The county rates hadn’t been changed since 1987.
Commissioners generally only claim reimbursement for meals while traveling out of the county, such as to state and national conventions and lobbying at the state Capitol or in Washington, although some commissioners in the past have claimed meals within the county, for which the new rates apply.