by Sarah Squires
Winona County has just joined four others to form a cooperative for purchasing certain health care programs.
The new cooperative, "Stedfast Health Plan," will include the counties of Winona, Houston, Fillmore, Mower and Olmsted, and will be used to jointly provide health programs for citizens who receive Medical Assistance.
The benefits are hoped to be twofold: meet needs that aren't being met now, and become more cost-effective overall.
"Essentially what it is is setting up a health plan system that will be able to provide the needs of the clients or customers without all the excessive overhead that you might see somewhere else," said Winona County Commissioner Jim Pomeroy.
At least two other cooperatives in Minnesota have already been formed, with the larger cooperative "Southern Country" paying member dividends this year. Pomeroy said that any collected dividends will simply go back into the fund for the program. As the issue has been looked into, Pomeroy said that even the worst case scenario comes up more efficient for Winona County.
The startup costs have been estimated at $4 million. But this figure will be prorated, said Pomeroy, between counties based on the number of clients served. With Olmsted County on the team, the larger area will provide more of the startup chunk of funding.
And while the end result will be a more cost-effective way of providing these medical services, those who receive services are expected to see a change for the better, as well. Pomeroy said that there are often difficulties in finding enough providers for things like dental care, and the new cooperative will open doors for needed services.
"The premise is to be able to provide greater care at a lesser cost," said Pomeroy.