WILLMAR, Minn. — Twelve rural southwestern Minnesota counties will take part in a three-year pilot program intended to improve the efficiency of services provided to people receiving government-funded medical care, which could be adopted across the state or nationwide.

The consortium of counties, Southern Prairie Community Care, has been working for years with insurance providers such as UCare and BluePlus to develop an alternative to the Medicaid program.

"This will be the first model of its kind in the United States, so there'll be a lot of eyes watching it," Kandiyohi County Commissioner Jim Butterfield said during his county board meeting Tuesday.

The project will be implemented in January, The West Central Tribune of Willmar reported Wednesday (http://bit.ly/19TQCSw ).

According to Southern Prairie's website, the pilot project is designed to meet the special needs shared by the rural communities in the 12-county area, such as poverty, obesity, diabetes and physical inactivity — and improve the "health and wellness of our residents."

The intention is to improve that quality of life by "facilitating the integration of services and supports provided throughout our community," the site says.

The 12 counties have excellent health care now but the coordinated care program will let the "left hand and the right hand" know what they're both doing for the client, said Ann Stehn, director of the Kandiyohi County Human Services Department.

The government has been "writing checks to insurance companies for the Medicaid population" without really knowing what the money was being spent on and whether the money improved the health of clients or if it created a system of repeated trips to emergency rooms and hospitals, Butterfield said.

The Southern Prairie plan coordinates communication between a wide range of players including social workers, medical providers, mental health care providers, nursing homes, clinics and hospitals. They will work to provide more efficient services to clients receiving Medical Assistance, the state's Medicaid program for low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities.

Southern Prairie Community Care includes Kandiyohi, Chippewa, Swift, Yellow Medicine, Lincoln, Lyon, Redwood, Murray, Cottonwood, Jackson, Rock and Nobles counties.