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Status Report: Broadband report, surge of patients, another sick deer

Broadband report: A broadband task force report issued Tuesday recommends that the state devote at least $110 million in grants and operating funds to speed up internet access statewide.

The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband report offers a number of policy proposals that it hopes can be enacted during the 2017 legislative session. The task force is chaired by former Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis.

The group’s keys recommendation includes $100 million in ongoing funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grand Development Program.

It recommends another $10 million in operating funds for the Office of Broadband Development, which is located within the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“Broadband plays a vital role in connecting people to health care, education and the global economy,” Anderson Kelliher said in a written statement. “The recommendations in our report will continue to move us closer to the border-to-border broadband access we need to succeed now and into the future.”

Minnesota’s universal broadband access and speed goals, updated in the 2016 legislative session, specify that all businesses and homes should have access to broadband services at download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of 3 megabits per second by 2022.

By 2026, the updated goals say, all Minnesota businesses and homes should have access to at least one broadband provider with minimal download speeds of 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second.

The full task force report can be found online here.

Surge of patients: Minnesota hospitals and clinics are seeing a surge of patients with high-deductible health plans looking to squeeze in surgeries and other care before the end of the year.

Insurance will cover the patients who’ve met their out-of-pocket maximums, Minnesota Public Radio reported. But their high deductibles, which are meant to bring down monthly premiums, will reset Jan. 1.

Doug Campbell of Bloomington said there is an incentive not to seek care during the deductible period because it’s expensive, but it’s reversed when the deductible is satisfied.

Deductibles and other cost-sharing provisions are designed to encourage customers to think before getting care in hopes of cutting down on unnecessary doctor visits.

Abbott Northwestern Hospital president Ben Bache-Wiig said November and December are 20 percent busier than the average month.

“We have our physicians doing elective operations on the weekends and into the evening and really kind of stressing the resources we have available for anesthesia and other pieces,” Bache-Wiig said.

Health insurer Medica said it pays out 16 percent more for care in December than during the average month.

Insurance companies are realizing when their customers avoid care because of out-of-pocket costs, they can sometimes end up getting sicker and wind up costing a lot more, according to health economist Jean Abraham.

For that reason, the industry is exploring different approaches, such as value-based insurance, which covers maintenance care for expensive chronic conditions.

Another sick deer: A third deer infected with chronic wasting disease has been discovered in southeastern Minnesota.

The Department of Natural Resources says a hunter shot the deer in mid-November about 5 miles north of where two previously reported infected deer were killed about 4 miles west of Lanesboro. An area taxidermist provided a sample for testing to the DNR.

The discovery won’t change the current boundaries of the disease management zone, which is designated deer permit area 603. A special hunt begins Saturday in the permit area and concludes Sunday, Jan. 15.

The DNR is trying to deplete the deer population in that zone to try to stop any spread of the brain disease. Chronic wasting disease is fatal to deer, elk and moose but is not known to affect human health.

What’s ahead: House and Senate offices remain closed through Jan. 2. The 2017 regular session of the Legislature begins at noon on Jan. 3, with sessions in both chambers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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