Family Services bracing for big impact from Affordable Care Act

The Isanti County Board on March 20 learned the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, is projected to have quite the impact on the county’s Family Services department starting this fall.

Because the eligibility requirements are going to change under the federal statute, Isanti County is estimated to lead the region — among Chisago, Kanabec, Mille Lacs and Pine counties — with new enrollees on medical assistance (MA), said Penny Messer, director of Isanti County Family Services.

The department could potentially have more than 1,800 cases to process, she added, and three to four more case workers will be needed to meet this increased demand.

The distribution of new enrollees, based on the current county share of MA enrollment, breaks down to 511 parents, pregnant women, children and 19-20-year-olds and 92 adults without dependent children. These two groups combined represent a total of 603 new MA enrollees in Isanti County.

Those shifting from MinnesotaCare to MA amounts to another 791 enrollees, Messer pointed out.

Simple math shows the complication that will have to be worked out, as Isanti County is projected to have a total of 1,394 new MA enrollees to process. This reflects an eligibility and enrollment change of approximately 424.

“We’ll start to see the impact this October,” said Messer.

President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010. Together with the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, it represents the most significant government expansion and regulatory overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system since Medicare and Medicaid passed in 1965.

The federal statute is aimed primarily at decreasing the number of uninsured Americans and reducing the overall costs of health care. It provides mandates, subsidies and tax credits to employers and individuals in order to increase the coverage rate.

Additional reforms are aimed at improving healthcare outcomes and streamlining the delivery of health care.

In Isanti County, the conversation is just beginning on how the Affordable Care Act may impact the Family Services department. The county board will be revisiting the issue in meetings to come.

In other action, the board:

• Approved the purchase of a new Dodge Charger to replace a recently damaged squad car for the sheriff’s office. The estimated cost to purchase the new vehicle and transfer equipment from the damaged vehicle is $31,510. To help offset the purchase, the county received $18,961 for the damaged vehicle through an MCIT insurance claim, while the department is requesting to use fund balance (reserves) to cover the balance. Revenue also is available from the online sales of surplus property that Sgt. Chris Caulk and the sheriff’s office have been managing. Since the online auction began last year, noted Caulk after the meeting, a little over $33,000 has been generated from various items.

• Approved a lease agreement extension between Isanti County and The Refuge Network. The Refuge, which is negotiating with the county for a different office space, will remain in its current suite in the Isanti County Oakview office complex, at the current rate of $775 per month, on a month to month basis until an alternative decision is reached.

• Agreed to complete a Master Plan for Irving & John Anderson County Park, which includes northern hardwood forests, restored prairies, wetlands and lakes, facilities and a trail system across 174 acres in Oxford Township. The plan would be beneficial for future development, use of the park and may become a requirement for future park Legacy funding, noted parks director Barry Wendorf. County Commissioner Susan Morris agreed to represent the county board on the Master Plan Advisory Committee that will assist in completing the Master Plan.

• Authorized the parks department to apply for a CURA grant to hire an intern from the University of Minnesota to assist in completing the Master Plan for Irving & John Anderson County Park.

• Approved the following utility permits as requested by county highway engineer Richard Heilman: buried fiber optic communication cables, involving CenturyLink Communications, along County Hwy. 8, from Hwy. 47 to CSAH 10, and along County Hwy. 2, from Hwy. 95 to the east county line. Also approved was an East Central Energy payment of $80,775, regarding power line relocation for the Co. Rd. 9 reconstruction project last year.

• Accepted the resignation of Sandra Anderson, administrative assistant with the sheriff’s office, effective April 2. Appreciative of her years of service, the board approved the action “with regret.”

• Closed the meeting for labor negotiations.