Although health care can be a controversial issue, almost everyone agrees that it is both costly and confusing. That’s equally true for local governments who are responsible for providing healthcare services for a sizable portion of their population. Recently, Yellow Medicine County began to explore possibly changing the way they deliver health care for low income residents.

During their Tuesday, June 12 meeting, Dr. Norris Anderson from Southern Prairie Community Care (SPCC) gave a presentation outlining the benefits of joining a county based health plan. In basic terms, county based health plans are programs in which counties work together to directly provide health care for qualifying residents under a single provider model. Counties are required by Minnesota state statute to provide health care for certain income groups.

According to their mission statement, SPCC is a 12 county organization “that works collaboratively with community partners on innovative strategies to improve the health of people in our region.” Yellow Medicine is currently a member, and is one of several counties weighing this option.

There are several unique characteristics that make county based health plans advantageous for smaller, rural counties like Yellow Medicine, Dr. Anderson argued. He explained that these plans help preserve local influence and control in health care, which also encourages more responsive decision making and assessment of needs. There will also be greater coordination and support for county services, which will help provide “strength and stability for the local health care system.”

Dr. Anderson told commissioners that the SPCC was recommending that the member counties investigate joining an existing county based health plan rather than creating an entirely new one from scratch. He suggested several possibilities, but recommended PrimeWest as the best option. He said that the two organizations had a “strong alignment of goals,” and that PrimeWest's experience in county based healthcare made it a natural partner. “Their a strong company with a great reputation,” he said, adding that they are the “gold standard.”

PrimeWest also makes large investments back into member communities, a fact that seemed to greatly excite the commissioners. These community investments (distributed in the form of grants) are directed towards local human service providers. Not only does this improve the quality of regional services, but it also strengthens the integration of local healthcare, another aspect that Dr. Anderson touted as a bonus.

Family Services Director Rae Ann Keeler-Aus vouched for PrimeWest’s county based health plan, explaining that from an administrative point of view, it would make things a lot easier. Commissioner Gary Johnson asked questions about the financial sustainability of county based programs. Dr. Anderson replied that in nearly two decades of operation, Prime West had never failed to cover their budget, adding that they have sufficient reserve funds to cover unexpected “fluctuations.”

No decision was taken by the Board, though they seemed to be favorably disposed to the plan. Meanwhile, SPCC will continue reaching out to member counties to gauge interest in the proposal. SPCC will eventually review these “financial and operational considerations” before working “with county boards to develop the best plan moving forward.”