Minn. Counties Hiring to Handle Influx of Newly-Insured

Updated: 07/25/2013 7:45 AM
Created: 07/24/2013 8:58 PM
By: Mark Albert

Minnesota counties have been on a hiring spree lately, preparing for an influx of newly-insured residents to begin applying for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

"We've got a need to hire - right now," said Rex Holzemer, assistant county administrator for Human Services in the state's largest county.

Hennepin County is hiring 75 full-time employees from a pool of 1,800 applicants; the positions pay $17.08 per hour. The added workers will be needed, Holzemer says, to help an estimated 23,800 newly-insured residents get registered for the health care they're eligible for.

Click here to see how many enrollees are expected per county.

Ramsey county is about to begin hiring 26 new people at a cost of $1.8 million. Dakota county has just hired nine additional staff and Washington county will also hire nine. Seventeen new staffers will be brought on in Anoka county, while Wright county will hire four next month.

Information the counties provided to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS within the past week showed the salaries range from around $33,000-$35,000 a year.

Here's a map with more information on the hirings:

"If we don't address the need," of uninsured residents for health coverage, Holzemer explained in an interview, "ultimately uncompensated care costs will be a greater cost than keeping people on health insurance."

The county says the extra staff will also be needed because another 108,000 existing Medical Assistance cases will need to be manually entered into the new MNsure web-based system within two years.

A spokesperson for the Minnesota Dept. of Human Services said on Wednesday that in the short-term there is "no expectation" that any county staff will need to manually enter the cases "for the January 1 ACA expansion. DHS plans to automatically convert these cases."

Whether manual entry would be necessary beyond Jan. 1 is unknown.

Currently, 733,000 low-income children and parents in Minnesota receive coverage through the $8.1 billion Medical Assistance program, according to the most recent DHS figures.

Sylbana Cabrera, a married mother of three, is the type of person Minnesota's counties are preparing for.

On Wednesday, Cabrera brought her two year-old daughter, Zusely, to the Northpoint Health and Wellness Center in North Minneapolis to see if she'll qualify for health insurance.

Currently, she does not, and says there have been times when she has not taken her children to the doctor because "it costs a lot of money."

She is one of the more than 4,000 newly-insured patients Northpoint expects next year under the ACA, said the clinic's CEO, Stella Whitney-West. The Hennepin county primary health care facility also expects up to 1,000 new patients under the Act, in addition to the 23,000 it currently serves each year.

Unlike Minnesota, 19 states, such as neighboring Wisconsin and South Dakota, have declined to expand its Medicaid eligibility, citing the costs.

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, a Republican running for Minnesota governor, voted against spending $4.2 million to hire the additional 75 staffers to help implement the act.

"We're going to have to figure, year after year after year, how to pay for this," Johnson warned in an interview Tuesday.

Even though the federal government has promised - for now - to cover 75 percent of counties' costs of enrollment and eligibility activities connected to the ACA, Johnson worries about the impact to Minnesota residents' wallets in the future.

"Someone will pay for it, of course, yeah. And my constituents and the constituents of my colleagues are going to pay for it already, because we're going to have to add it to the property tax burden," said Johnson.

Click here to watch our previous coverage: 'Business Leaders Get Guidance on New Health Care Laws.'

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