By Dan Reed
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Blue Cross counters with better deal

 


The Carlton County Board of Commissioners continues to wrestle with county employee health insurance costs. After their last meeting in which they decided to pursue health care coverage from HealthPartners at a first year savings of $340,000 in premiums paid, the board has now learned Blue Cross, who has provided the insurance coverage in the past through the Northeastern Cooperative, has countered that offer with a better deal.

At their October 24 meeting, the board was presented with a proposal from Blue Cross that matches HealthPartners for the first year and guarantees no more than a 4 percent increase for each of the next two years, 2 percentage points lower than HealthPartners in each of those premium years. Continuing coverage with Blue Cross in the Northeastern Cooperative, made up of several governmental units in the area, would continue the health plan structure of service as it has been.

County Coordinator Dennis Genereau commented, “Negotiations continue among the parties on which way the county should go. I cannot make a recommendation at this time. The health care coverage is comparable from both insurance providers — it is now just a matter of the best deal for the county.”

Bottom line, the county is poised to save money for employee health coverage. The final decision is not known at this time.

Carlton County has entered into an agreement with Thomson Township to provide a deputy full-time in the township jurisdiction. A deputy will have to be hired for that position. Part-time coverage from another deputy will be needed for back-up during days off and vacation. Thomson Township has agreed to reimburse the county for all expenses on a monthly basis. This proposal has already been factored into the 2017 county budget.

The Sixth Judicial Treatment Courts have been awarded a $975,000 grant for a three-year period to hire two case managers focusing on recovery services for substance abuse and mental health cases from St. Louis and Carlton counties. Also, a bed will be reserved in a new Opioid Stabilization Unit, the first of its kind in Minnesota, being developed by the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment. Hepatitis and HIV testing will also be provided by the Rural AIDS Action Network.

At least 100 people will be served each year in the three-year proposal. This proposal is in response to a ballooning growth of opioid use in northeastern Minnesota.

Health and Human Services Director Dave Lee also reported that Blue Cross will be reducing children’s mental health payments for case management from $1,089 to $550 a month; 31 county residents are now receiving this service. Lee asked and the county board approved sending a letter of protest to Blue Cross with copies to legislative and state Department of Health officials.

In local news, the county board approved the replacement plan for wetlands impacted by the reconstruction of the Palo Road bridge in Automba Township this summer. Two years of meetings with officials on numerous levels and agencies were conducted before construction. Temporary bridge materials used for bypassing traffic on large artery bridge work were procured from the regional Department of Transportation for the project.

Flooding had destroyed several bridges during at least the last 100 years. The Palo Road was established in 1929 formally with township board action and a road grading contract was awarded at that time. The road has been a minimum maintenance road since 1989 with Carlton County responsible for the minimum work needed. The township is still held liable under Minnesota statute to keep a bridge crossing in good repair for public use.

Highway Engineer Mike Tardy reported he hoped County State-Aid Highway 12 from Kettle River to Moose Lake would be tarred before winter sets in. Pavement application started at the west end to minimize heavy truck loads on the roadbed closest to Moose Lake, which had had several soft spots. One day was lost for paving because the contractor ran out of oil at the asphalt plant. In the last few days, the weather has settled and work is finishing up.

 

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