People who receive medical assistance through Morrison County will soon have to resume completing annual eligibility renewals.
Health and Human Services (HHS) Executive Director Brad Vold told the County Board, Tuesday, that the federal government is about to unwind special guidelines that were put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the measures went into effect, those receiving medical assistance (MA) were automatically renewed each year.
There are a total of 5,090 MA cases open in Morrison County. Each of them will have to renew their eligibility sometime within the next year to continue receiving benefits.
“This is something you all could get phone calls on, especially since people may end up at a pharmacy and not realize their coverage has ended because they didn’t notify us, or just a wide array of things that could happen as a result of this,” Vold told the Board.
To avoid that scenario, HHS staff is taking action to help residents who receive assistance through the transition.
HHS Maintenance Supervisor Cyndi Bachan said one possible hurdle facing those outreach efforts could be getting in touch with residents who do not have a current address on file with the county. That could be one situation in which someone might end up getting surprised by not having coverage, simply because HHS could not reach them.
Most MA and Minnesota Care enrollees are required to renew once per year. About six weeks before sending renewal forms to a client, the Minnesota Department of Health (DHS) will mail out a letter telling them how to get ready and to watch out for a renewal form. Clients can expect to get a renewal form in the mail about two months before the month they originally applied for health insurance.
HHS Income Maintenance Supervisor Karen Szczodroski said those “pre-renewal notices” will start going out this month. In April, those who receive benefits through the Minnesota Eligibility Technology System (METS) with renewals due in July will receive their forms in the mail.
Those on the Management of Administrative Expenditure Information System (MAXIS) who are due to renew in July will receive their renewal notices in May.
“July basically is our first month that the renewals will start, that people can actually start getting closed off of assistance,” Szczodroski said.
It will make for a busy time for HHS employees, who haven’t had to do renewals in three years. Szczodroski said the state is offering training and refresher courses via WebEx on everything from the programs themselves to the asset verification system.
There are a total of 1,712 MAXIS cases in Morrison County. Szczodroski said it was important to note that those are cases, not people. Each case could be a single resident and it could be an entire family. Those cases are generally reviewed every six months. As such, HHS will be on a schedule of 285 reviews monthly.
There are 3,378 METS cases in Morrison County. They are reviewed once per year, meaning 282 will be reviewed by HHS staff each month. Bachan said almost one-fourth of the population of Morrison County is on some type of assistance.
“As Karen mentioned with this case size, when it comes to METS, most cases do contain more than one person,” Bachan said. “They’re generally households with kids. MAXIS cases tend, because they’re disabled and elderly and stuff, tend to be more just one person per (case).”
Bachan said one benefit of the pre-renewals going out is that, for those who don’t receive them at the addresses on file, that mailing should come back to the county. In that event, staff members will know they need to attempt to find the person via other means to get them their paperwork.
Vold said there are other strategies being implemented to help those who need MA continue to receive their benefits. One example is that the state is providing clients with extra time to reduce their assets. That is because some clients may have had an increase while being automatically renewed, but still need financial assistance.
He said they also might allow some flexibility with not immediately closing cases for clients who don’t get back to the county to renew right away.
“The unintended consequences of this, or what could happen, it could affect somebody’s nursing home stay or foster care stay or their ability to get prescriptions, just a wide array of things that could happen for individuals who may not now be eligible for medical assistance,” Vold said.
During discussion with the Board, Commissioner Greg Blaine said he was “a little more relieved” in the fact that DHS and the insurance companies will be communicating with existing enrollees.
He added that he liked the strategy being taken by HHS in informing the public beforehand, as — at nearly 5,100 cases — this will impact a lot of people in the county.
“We’re not doing this reactionary,” Blaine said. “We’re being proactive about this, and I applaud you all on your staff for taking that action and that strategy.”
Commissioner Randy Winscher asked, in the event HHS is unable to reach someone before their renewal date is up, if there is a safety net in place. Szczodroski said they can reapply for services at any time.
Winscher asked if there would still be a period of time when those individuals might not be covered and be at risk of being expected to pay for prescriptions or a medical procedure out of pocket.
“We can look back three months for retro-eligibility,” Bachan said. “Even if they would apply today, we can go back three months and give them coverage. So, there shouldn’t be anyone that’s stuck with a medical bill because, if they go in for a procedure, they’re going to find out at that time they’re not covered.”
Board of Commissioners Briefs:
In other business Tuesday, the Morrison County Board of Commissioners:
• Approved the change in grade from 32 to 34 for a supervisor in Health and Human Services (HHS) based on the review by a consultant who graded the position within the county’s compensation policy;
• Executed an agreement authorizing Local Bridge Replacement Program grant funds for a bridge replacement project on County State Aid Highway (CSAH) 6;
• Approved a contract for the Morrison County Jail to house Beltrami County inmates;
• Approved a request to hire a full-time correctional officer due to a resignation;
• Approved a request to hire a MnCHOICE assessor, an intake worker and an elderly case manager due to resignations;
• Thanked outgoing HHS Executive Director Brad Vold for his nearly 18 years of service and leadership for the county;
• Heard a presentation on the 2022 feedlot program, which will be submitted to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA);
• Approved a request from County Engineer Tony Hennen to execute contracts for the low bids on the Public Works facility addition; and
• Approved the appointment of Katie Knettel as interim Health and Human Services director until the position is filled.
The next meeting of the Board of Commissioners is a planning session at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 21, at the Morrison County Government Center.
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