County Board discusses legislative priorities
The Lake County Board of Commissioners took time to talk about its federal legislative priorities for the next year with a representative from Sen. Amy Klobuchar's officer during its action meeting Tuesday in Two Harbors.
Ida Rukavina, Klobuchar's regional outreach director for northeastern Minnesota, was at the meeting Tuesday and spoke with the commissioners about different priorities during the 2017 legislative session. Klobuchar was the top senator in 2016 for pieces of legislation signed into law and consistently worked across the partisan aisle to craft legislation, Rukavina said.
Commissioner Rich Sve mentioned a couple of priorities for Lake County in 2017, including negotiating prescription drug prices for Medicare and an opportunity for the county to access more funding to finish construction of its broadband network, Lake Connections. Prescription drug prices are a priority in Lake County with a population that is aging faster than that of the rest of the U.S. The county is working to finish construction of Lake Connections and would like to be able to access federal funds to finish the project, but funding from the state of Minnesota's border to border broadband initiative is only available to new projects, not existing ones.
In addition, Commissioner Rick Goutermont also asked about reimbursement caps to ambulance services from Medicare and Medicaid that are affecting rural ambulance services around the nation. Sixty-two percent of patients transported by Lake County Ambulance Service (LCAS) are on Medicare and caps the amount of money LCAS can collect on those calls. For example, for an advanced life support call that transports a patient 53 miles, LCAS's fee is $3,179, but Medicare will only pay $988.61 for that call and if the patient is on Medicaid, about 9 percent of the calls LCAS receives, the service can only collect $804.21. The Medicare rates include a 22.6 percent "super rural bonus."
The amount of money Lake County has needed to provide to keep LCAS afloat has increased from $40,000 just a few years ago to $500,000 in 2017.
Rukavina said she would relay the commissioners' concerns and priorities to Klobuchar and also encouraged constituents to contact Klobuchar's office if they are having trouble accessing federal benefits like Medicare or veterans' benefits.
Also at the meeting, the board approved a new mileage reimbursement policy. The new mileage reimbursement will pay 50.5 cents per mile for those choosing to use their personal vehicle instead of the county motor pool or 53.5 cents per mile if there is no vehicle available for their use. The board also awarded a contract to Ulland Brothers for the reconstruction of Horn Boulevard in Silver Bay. The contract was awarded to Ulland Brothers as the "lowest responsible bidder" for the more than $1.25 million dollar reconstruction project in Silver Bay. The county had budgeted $1.4 million in 2017 for the Horn Boulevard project.
Finally, the addition of Commissioner Rick Hogenson to the board allowed the county to easily win its annual curling match with the Two Harbors City Council last weekend during the Two Harbors Winter Frolic for the first time in three years. Members of both the County Board and the City Council put in $100 and the winner made a $200 donation to a charity of its choice. The board chose to donate its winnings to the Lake County Sex Trafficking Task Force.
"It was a runaway," Commissioner Jeremy Hurd said.