- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Dakotas-based Sanford Health is securing more office space and posting dozens of jobs in North Dakota as its insurance subsidiary prepares to take over as the primary provider for state workers.

Meanwhile, Sanford is asking South Dakota’s Division of Insurance to determine if its insurance plans comply with a law voters enacted in November.

Sanford Health Plan will begin providing coverage for the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System on July 1, after out-bidding longtime provider Blue Cross Blue Shield earlier this year. Sanford said in a statement that it has secured office space in Fargo and is selecting office space in Bismarck. It also has posted openings for more than 80 new jobs in the two cities.

“Within just a few days after posting the jobs we received hundreds of applications,” Sanford Health Plan President Ruth Krystopolski said.

Sanford Health, based in Fargo and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is the largest not-for-profit rural health care system in the nation with locations in 126 communities in nine states. It also is developing international clinics in Ghana, Mexico and China. It has more than 26,000 employees.

In South Dakota, Sanford is asking state insurance officials to determine if its insurance plans comply with the patient choice law that took effect late last year, the Argus Leader newspaper reported. The voter-approved measure allows doctors to join an insurer’s preferred providers list if they agree to conditions set by the insurance company, including payments for patient services. Supporters said it will give people more freedom when choosing doctors.

Sanford Health Plan offers an insurance option that is open to all providers, but it also offers custom plans with a defined list of providers. Those plans are less expensive for consumers and employers, according to the company.

Because Sanford has a plan open to all providers, the health system is asking for a state ruling that would enable it to keep offering the custom plans.

“If (the new law) is applied to Sanford Health Plan to allow any provider to participate in every plan or network, it will prevent consumers from having the choice to obtain insurance from a closed network of providers in exchange for a lower premium,” Sanford’s filing says.

Sioux Falls Surgical Hospital CEO Blake Curd said he expects all health insurers to “honor the will of South Dakota’s voters and fully comply with their statutory obligation not to obstruct patient choice.”

State Insurance Director Larry Deiter declined to discuss Sanford’s request, saying it is still being studied.

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