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Crow Wing County Board: Blue Cross Blue Shield denies contract with Nisswa-based clinic

Crow Wing County Commissioner Paul Koering (fourth from left) cautions the board at its Tuesday, Jan. 22, meeting about writing letters at the behest of various organizations that make such requests of the board. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

It seems there can be too much of a good thing.

Acquire Mental Health Clinic of Nisswa was denied a contract by Blue Cross Blue Shield for providing substance use disorder treatment services because the Brainerd lakes area was "provider saturated," according to the insurance provider.

"Acquire Mental Health is looking to appeal that process," county Adult Services Supervisor Nathan Bertram told the county board of commissioners at its Tuesday, Jan. 22, meeting.

For two years, the county has contracted with licensed counselor Carlyn Becker of Acquire Mental Health Clinic, who ensures county residents are able to get assessments if they have no insurance and are unable to pay for one on their own, according to Bertram.

"They asked if we would be able to write a letter, just stating the need in our area for the services, and so I said I would do that ... and I'm looking for board support to be able to give this letter to Acquire Mental Health, so hopefully they can provide services in our area," he said.

Acquire Mental Health Clinic is the only provider of such services north of the Brainerd area, according to Bertram.

"I really feel strongly that if some of these insurance providers are not going to be willing to contract with people offering the services in the community, it's going to leave a large gap in our community for those needing the service, which concerns me a little," Bertram said.

"I really think having more treatment opportunities in our community is going to benefit all of us."

The county also contracts with five other providers in the community, and most of those providing outpatient substance use disorder treatment have a waiting list—people have to wait weeks and sometimes more than a month for outpatient services, according to Bertram.

"They are citing the reason that they don't want to have a contract with Acquire Mental Health, they are saying Crow Wing County is provider saturated—that's the term they use," County Administrator Tim Houle said. "I don't understand that. Why would we not want to have as many providers as the market could bear? Why would we not let the market decide how many providers saturate our market? Why do they care? What's the harm in them (Acquire Mental Health) having a contract? I don't get it."

Blue Cross Blue Shield's determination that the county is provider saturated when the county cannot meet the community's needs and with people on waiting lists, Bertram said, "is just not accurate."

"We are representing the citizens of Crow Wing County ... and you are putting the reputation of Crow Wing County on the line when you're writing these letters of recommendation," Commissioner Paul Koering said about his hesitation about writing letters at others' behest.

Houle said, "Letters of support should have some tangible connection to Crow Wing County business. In this particular instance, I think it does, I think it meets that criteria, but I think Commissioner Koering's wariness is about straying too far afield."

Crow Wing County and Brainerd, specifically, are regional hubs for speciality services, Bertram said.

"I just think that when we do this letter—and there's other people that provide services—it's almost like the citizens of Crow Wing County are choosing somebody over another, and that concerns me," Koering said.

Bertram responded, "I really tried to stay away from this 'we support this program over any specific (one).' I tried to write the letter specifically to the needs of Crow Wing County."

Commissioner Doug Houge made the motion for the board to send the letter to Blue Cross Blue Shield requesting the insurance provider reconsider its decision to deny a contract with Acquire Mental Health Clinic. Commissioner Steve Barrows seconded the motion, and it passed.

In other business, the county board:

Approved the hiring of Caleb Kreller, sheriff's office correctional officer; Tracey DeChaine and Bethany Soderlund, land services customer service specialists; Chad Heyer and Austin Kubesh, administrative services maintenance technicians; and Mackenzie Alfred, community services social worker.

Accepted the departures of Vickie Sullivan, land services property assessor, and Bob Nelson, veterans service officer.

Approved the bylaws of the Northeast Minnesota Emergency Communications Board.

Approved modifications to the joint powers agreement forming the Northeast Minnesota Emergency Communications Board.

Accepted a donation from Granite Electronics to the county dive team in the amount of $100.

Approved the tobacco application of Northland Off Sale Liquors in Jenkins.

Supported the gambling application for an exempt permit for the Brainerd chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association for March 30 at the Green Lantern in Nokay Lake Township.

Authorized community services to enter into the Interlocal Cooperative Agreement with Sourcewell for licensing specialist services for family day care.

Accepted a donation from HealthPartners to Crow Wing Energized in the amount of $10,000 to launch and promote the Make It OK campaign and support the county's efforts to further educate and encourage awareness in the community about mental illness.

Authorized withdrawing a tract from the tax-forfeit available over-the-counter list located at Second Avenue Northeast and B Street Northeast and authorized the direct sale of the parcel to an adjoining landowner William Cory for $4,300.

Approved the acquisition of land from Peter and Eileen Heno, who own 120 acres of vacant land in Cuyuna, and from Serena Bowman, who owns 1/12 interest in a 40-acre parcel of vacant land in Cuyuna, off of Powder House Road, to protect an existing snowmobile trail and to provide access to county-managed lands.

Approved offering a credit to nonprofits who apply and qualify in the amount of $1,000 to be used towards landfill tipping fee when disposing waste as part of a one-year trial.

Approved the release of the stormwater plan surety bond in the amount of $2,500 for the plat of The Sanctuary.

Authorized entering into a contract between the county and Tri-County Septic Inspections to provide inspection services for new septic system installations at a contract amount of $165 per inspection, effective Feb. 1.

Authorized entering into a contract between the county and Stonemark Land Surveying Inc. for public land survey corner remonumentation to complete section corner work in Fifty Lakes, Crosslake and Ideal Township in the amount of $42,840.