Commissioners approve adding 9 staff to DCS

Officials say new positions needed to meet Affordable Care Act workload

WashCo_logoThe Washington County Community Services Department will add nine new employees to help handle increased workload department officials anticipate from implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act.

The Board of Commissioners approved the new requested positions Tuesday. The DCS plans hiring four special project specialists, three regular status eligibility specialists, one regular status office support worker and one regular status economic support supervisor, according to DCS Division Manager Linda Bixby.

Bixby said $247,500 of the $495,000 annual cost of the new jobs would be paid with federal funds and the remaining cost paid with DCS funds available to support special projects and the budgeted levy.

“Coming to you today with this request is daunting,” said DCS Director Dan Papin.
Both Papin and Bixby said the new positions are needed to address what the two said would be increased workloads for DCS employees resulting from ACA and MNsure, the new state health care exchange. and the expansion of Medicaid.

Bixby said DCS staff would see about 2,600 more cases in 2014 through 2015, another 9,500 cases converted to MNsure and about 25 percent to 40 percent of new aid cases enrolling in the SNAP program.

“There’s going to be a significant impact on the county’s workload,” she said.

Bixby also said the anticipated increase in the DCS workload could have an impact on child support collection efforts.

“There could be implications to child support. We don’t know what that will be,” she said.

Bixby said DCS officials sought approval for the new jobs now to give the department time to hire and train staff and find space for them to work at county offices.

But DCS officials believe case workers might process applications more efficiently under ACA.

“Health care reform does bring some efficiencies to it, We don’t know the extent of the efficiency gains at this point,” she said.

Bixby and Papin both said the county’s health care caseload has grown since 2007.
“You are well aware that as the economy tanked, requests for assistance increased,” Papin said.

And Bixby admitted that DCS officials are not sure if the four temporary positions the board approved would be needed beyond 2014.

“I wish I had a good answer for you. There are so many unknowns with this project,” she said.

Bixby also noted that all metro-area counties are adding staff in anticipation of the increased health care case workload.

Commissioners offered little discussion on the request, which was recommended last week by the board personnel committee, according to Board Chairwoman Lisa Weik.

“This is a significant long-term budget impact to Washington County,” added Commissioner Fran Miron. “It’s just a significant impact to county budgets to implement the program.”

Commissioner Autumn Lehrke called the ACA an “unfunded mandate” to the county and added that she and other county commissioners attending a meeting last week came up with a new name for ACA.

“We coined it the unaffordable health care act because we can’t afford to keep adding staff,” she said.

But Papin believes the added staff the board approved is enough to handle the department’s pending workload.

“I believe so. It’s certainly not liberal. We’re not shooting for the moon here,” he said.