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UCare ouster could mean big loss for doctor training

Plus: development of old Macy’s site in St. Paul centers on Wild; loon numbers weak in southern Minnesota; why Walker’s presidential campaign has tanked; and more.

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So the two are linked, you say? In the Strib, Jeremy Olson reports, “The ouster of UCare as an insurer in most of Minnesota’s public health care programs could have an unintended consequence: a squeeze on the training of much-needed family practice doctors in the state. As part of its mission, the Minneapolis health insurer has diverted excess revenue — often $4 million to $10 million per year — to the University of Minnesota’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. And over time, that money became the department’s primary funding for the training of 150 residents — doctors who have completed medical school and need on-the-job training in hospitals and clinics.”

Directly related: a commentary from Joel Albers, not a fan of America’s (and Minnesota’s) medical bureaucracy. “Do we really need managed care in Minnesota? … Before managed care, Medicaid and MinnesotaCare (for those with incomes slightly above Medicaid’s) were exclusively public programs run quite efficiently. Minnesota’s Department of Human Services contracted directly with hospitals, clinics and pharmacies. All services were integrated, there was one drug formulary, and billing and claims were processed in-house. Each county administered Medicaid’s outreach, eligibility and patient enrollment. In 1983, the Legislature added ‘fiscal intermediaries’ to the public Medicaid program as a ‘demonstration project.’ Private insurers were to micromanage patient care, placing both practitioners and patients at financial risk. Patient ‘copays,’ for example, a managed-care invention and difficult to administer, cause delays in seeking care, which studies show result in increased hospitalizations and emergency-room visits.”

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Will the Wild save the old Macy’s store in St. Paul? Nick Woltman and Frederick Melo of the PiPress say, “Two restaurants, a brewery, a bank and the Minnesota Wild hockey team are lined up to move into the vacant Macy’s department store in downtown St. Paul, if and when the city’s Port Authority lines up a master developer. … [Port Authority President Louis Jambois] said an enclosed rooftop practice facility for the Wild is in the cards, and that has made all the difference in attracting retailers. ‘We’ve been working to get commitments on as much of the space as we possibly can,’ Jambois said. ‘I firmly believe that it is the presence of the Wild that has made the building attractive to many of these other prospective users. There’s an excitement about being co-located with the Wild.’”  

Southern Minnesota is weak on loons. The AP says, “Minnesota’s loon population is stable at an estimated 4,800 breeding pairs, but their numbers are weaker in southern reaches. And a study from the National Audobon Society last year suggested loons could be pushed out of Minnesota altogether by 2080 as the state’s lakes warm.”

This one is outside the norm. Mary Divine of the PiPress reports, “A 90-year-old Maplewood man called police on Saturday night to report a terrible crime: He had shot and killed his son with a pistol. … Police found Larry Bowser, 65, dead in the house, the victim of an apparent gunshot wound … .”

The Silicon Prairie (that’s us, apparently), gets a warm, wet kiss from the tech site CNET. Terry Collins writes, “Silicon Valley ideas get meshed with Midwestern values, resulting in a low-key and collaborative community of startups in Minnesota that stands in sharp contrast to the in-your-face, cutthroat lifestyle in California. Entrepreneurs are also convinced they have a better chance to get funding because there are fewer businesses to compete with for investors. The number of tech startups in the North Star State doubled in the past five years, to more than 500, with venture capitalists investing almost $600 million in 2014 in companies 5 years old or younger. Minnesota ranked 20th in the country last year in receiving venture funding for those types of startups … .”

It’s the market. Mark Steil at MPR says, “Minnesota farmers expect a record harvest this fall, but it may be mostly a money loser. With a nearly perfect summer in Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting record corn and soybean crops for the state. Corn may average 183 bushels an acre, 3 percent more than the record 2010 harvest. But for most farmers, corn prices are so low they may lose money on the crop. Northstar Commodities grain analyst Jason Ward says there’s simply too much corn for sale.” Next year: Only bacon. There’s never too much.

In a Q&A on lawyers’ effort to overturn the death penalty for Alfonso Rodriguez, convicted killer of Dru Sjodin, the AP says: “What happened in court last week? Rodriguez’s attorneys are alleging juror misconduct based mainly on responses to a 121-question survey and interviews with prospective jurors as the panel was selected. Court documents on their motion are sealed from public view, but on Tuesday, one of his attorneys grilled juror Rebecca Vettel for several hours. The attorney suggested Vettel hadn’t given truthful or complete answers on things like traffic citations and lawsuits she was involved in, and also didn’t mention at the time that she had once alleged being the victim of an attempted sexual assault. What happened after that isn’t clear, because on Wednesday, the judge closed most of the proceedings when he said there were issues that involved minors.”

In the PiPress, Mary Ann Grossmann has a round up of new books from Minnesota writers. “”Everybody’s Heard About the Bird: The True Story of 1960s Rock ‘n’ Roll in Minnesota” by Rick Shefchik (University of Minnesota Press, November) From Augie Garcia and Bobby Vee to the Bops and the Castaways, former Pioneer Press critic Shefchik tells of local bands that almost made it in the 1960s, delving deeply into The Trashmen’s rise to fame with a fluke novelty hit ‘Surfin’ Bird’ that inspired hundreds of Minnesota bands. Shefchik captures a time when live bands flourished in clubs, ballrooms, gyms and halls across the Upper Midwest.” The boys even got a check from Stanley Kubrick.

Twenty-seven?! Kelly Smith of the Strib says, “Homeowners staining their deck or garage before winter may not realize they’re dealing with chemicals that can all too easily ignite. From Orono to Robbinsdale, metro area fire departments are responding to an increasing number of fires started by spontaneous combustion of rags soaked in stain or oil. Firefighters across the state are seeing the same problem, with crews reporting at least 27 of these types of fires so far this year in Minnesota, according to the state Department of Public Safety.”

Ordinarily I’d say, “One at a time.” But plan away. Also in the Strib, Janet Moore writes, “The controversial Southwest light-rail line that would link Minneapolis to Eden Prairie has yet to break ground and critical state funding for the $1.77 billion project remains unclear, but that has not stopped regional transit officials from busily laying the groundwork for a fourth line. The Bottineau rail line would be an extension of the existing Blue Line, running north from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park. The project already has a preliminary price tag of $1 billion, and could find itself plagued by many of the same issues that have driven up costs on the Southwest project, including concerns over wetlands, railroad right of way and political opposition. While only 1 percent of Bottineau’s preliminary environmental work is complete, the general footprint and plans for up to 11 stations along north Minneapolis, Robbinsdale, Golden Valley, Crystal and Brooklyn Park have quietly emerged.”

Walker Watch (i.e. pretending there’s still something to watch). In Newsweek, Peter Suderman of Reason magazine writes, “Scott Walker, who just months ago was viewed as a top-tier contender for the GOP presidential nomination, is tanking in the polls. … Walker started his run as a candidate with a record of accomplishment who would get things done in Washington. He quickly turned into a candidate who couldn’t even describe what it is he’d do. And in the process, he lost what made his campaign take off in the first place. Walker rose to prominence earlier this year not only on the strength of his governing record but on his ability to clearly and powerfully articulate that record and why it mattered. The natural extension of this, as a candidate, would have been to take the issues that he was already known for at the state level — public sector union power, budget deficits, state spending and taxes — and develop them into a coherent national agenda. Instead, Walker has pandered to Iowa voters, prioritizing issues like immigration and the nuclear deal with Iran that were never core to his appeal, and let his campaign be drawn into the day-to-day absurdities of the Trump circus.” I say we build a wall on the border with the Pacific Ocean!