Albert Lea residents excited for more healthcare options

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(ABC 6 News) – Some Albert Lea seniors say they are breathing a sigh of relief tonight after Blue Cross Blue Shield suddenly announced MercyOne Clinic will now be an in-network provider in their Medicare Advantage program.

Area seniors say this means they finally have a choice in their medical care.

The community spent years getting the MercyOne clinic up and running after Mayo Clinic announced it was pulling out key services. Then they found out the clinic was not covered by one of the area’s most popular Medicare plans.

Until now, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Medicare Advantage program only offered Mayo Clinic as an in-network provider. That means people with that plan couldn’t visit MercyOne without paying out of pocket.

“Our seniors who were really, really important in this movement that we’ve had here, they couldn’t go because it was out of network,” said Brad Arends, President of the Albert Lea Healthcare Coalition.

The Albert Lea Healthcare Coalition is a group focused on expanding healthcare options in Albert Lea. He says this will impact thousands of people.

“This is a coup for Albert Lea,” Arends said.

Blue Cross blue Shield announced this week that as of January 1, 2023, MercyOne will be in-network.

But getting to that point wasn’t easy. Due to a contract, Mayo Clinic had to agree to allow MercyOne into the network. Blue Cross Blue Shield said in a statement that Mayo did agree and that Blue Cross had been exploring this addition for some time.

When asked about the expansion, Mayo Clinic would not explain why simply saying in part:

“As participants in this plan network, we have never wavered in our commitment to providing quality outcomes to members served by Mayo Clinic.”

“I was appalled that I wasn’t able to use MercyOne in this community when it came in,” said Alan Root, an Albert Lea resident that used Blue Cross Blue Shield Medicare Advantage plan.

Root has lived in Albert Lea since 1986. He recently left the Blue Cross Blue Shield Medicare Advantage plan for something more affordable.
“Something that we really worry about as senior citizens is the cost of insurance.”

He says this expansion means his community has more control over their own medical needs.

“Finally a sigh of relief. Accessibility and choice,” Root described.
Root and Arends hope that eventually, competition between MercyOne and Mayo Clinic will drive down the price of healthcare.

“When you don’t have any competition, you pretty much charge whatever you want to charge,” Arends explained.

The Albert Lea Healthcare coalition says this change could also bring more patients to their new MercyOne clinic, which would allow them to continue to expand services.