COVID-19 has had a notable impact on medical assistance services through Morrison County Social Services over the past two years.
Phone calls and documents received within the health care unit decreased in 2020 and decreased further in 2021. In 2019, before the pandemic, they received 6,212 calls; or an average of 517 per month. This fell to 4,331 calls in total – 361 per month – in 2020. Up to September 2021, there were 2,378 calls in total; about 264 per month.
“The federal public health emergency is still declared, so it affects some of our federal programs,” said Brad Vold, director of human services for Morrison County.
Social services maintenance supervisor Cyndi Bachan said the emergency is currently in effect until the end of 2021. Theoretically, it could be extended beyond.
“This is the reason why calls are down,” Bachan said. “We are currently unable to shut anyone off from health care unless they request it, die or leave the state. Otherwise, they stay open even if they exceed income or asset guidelines. “
The number of documents received and processed by the health care unit follows the same pattern. After 10,473 documents in total in 2019, social services received 6,323 in 2020 and 3,288 so far this year.
In September, Bachan said his office was not processing any renewals due to COVID. This has since been updated to allow renewals processed by the Administrative Expenditure Management Information System (MAXIS) software.
His office remained busy, however, even though the files could not be closed. The office should always enter the information so that it is ready to move forward once it is authorized to do so.
“Last month, each worker processed about 50 renewals,” Bachan said. “In September, it was 60 each. That’s an increase of about 35, which they normally would.
Bachan said social services had received good news from the Minnesota Department of Social Services (DHS) regarding the MAXIS cases. There were concerns that once health care claims and renewals could be processed, they would have to do so immediately. This would likely result in everything being due in the same month of the year.
“Lucky for us, they decided they would go with a one-year date,” Bachan said. “So if someone had a test due now in November, they should have a test in six months. However, what we do is put them in November 2022. Then, in November 2022, when we do the renewal, that is scheduled for the next six months. We get to stay on the same schedule, which is what it boils down to. “
However, a concern still exists with the Minnesota Eligibility Technology System (METS) cases. This constitutes the bulk of the county’s caseload. There are currently 3,115 cases – affecting 6,692 people – and the cases are being handled through METS software. The county manages about a quarter of that amount in terms of MAXIS cases.
In total, the county pays health insurance premiums on behalf of 922 clients. There are approximately 144 households in the county that obtain health insurance through an employer and receive reimbursement from the county.
Bachan provided a comparison of METS cases in Morrison County with eight counties with a similar population. On that list, four counties – Becker, Benton, Isanti and Mower – had more people receiving help. Carlton, Douglas, McLeod and Steele counties had fewer.
Compared to other counties in Region 5, Morrison County recorded fewer METS and MAXIS cases than Cass and Crow Wing counties, while being slightly higher than Todd and Wadena counties.
“Morrison and Todd are at the bottom of this scale for the percentage of clients in the county receiving medical assistance, which is a good thing,” Bachan said.