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Craig McEwen, Published December 19 2009

Noridian: Major Fargo employer a Medicare processing machine

President Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 passage of Medicare/Medicaid federal health care legislation set the stage for what has become one of Fargo’s largest employers.

Last year, Fargo-based Noridian Administrative Services LLC distributed almost $22 billion to 185,596 health care providers in payment for 111 million Medicare/Medicaid claims filed by beneficiaries in 18 states.

A 2002 spinoff of Fargo-based Noridian Mutual Insurance Co., parent company of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, NAS now operates 11 offices in eight states. It employs 997 people, 688 of whom work in Fargo, which ranks it among the top 12 largest employers in Fargo-Moorhead, according to the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp.

NAS peak employment hit 1,352 in 2007. The subsidiary’s existence dates back to 1966 when BCBSND assigned 13 people to process Medicare insurance claims in Fargo.

Its staffing size fluctuates based on ability to secure and retain federal contracts to process Medicare Part A, Part B, Durable Medical Equipment and Medicaid insurance claims.

“Our growth or shrinkage happens in large numbers because most of the contracts are big,” said Mike Hamerlik, NAS president and CEO.

In November 1997, for instance, NAS was awarded a Medicare Part B contract for six Western states previously managed by Aetna. NAS staffing surged from 481 to 760 employees.

NAS recently submitted a contract bid that could result in hundreds of new jobs, Hamerlik said.

“When you look at the growth of Noridian (NAS) over the past decade, it has significantly contributed to the diversification and growth of our local economy,” said Brian Walters, GFMEDC president.

“They very quietly have created an enterprise that generates significant economic impact for our community,” Walters said.

It’s because of companies like Noridian (NAS) that Fargo ranks No. 1 in economic prosperity among all metro areas and enjoys the second lowest unemployment rate in the country, Walters said.

Multiple locations

NAS currently employs 859 people in North Dakota: 688 in Fargo, 93 in Grand Forks, 63 at Jamestown and 15 at Leeds.

Another 138 work at offices in Phoenix, Boise, Idaho, Eagan, Minn., Great Falls, Mont., Portland, Ore., Salt Lake City, Kent, Wash., and Iowa Medicaid in Des Moines, which is the only Medicaid contract that the company services.

“Our Fargo staff has been stable to growing,” said Hamerlik. “Our overall staff has been shrinking.”

In recent years, NAS closed offices in Des Moines, Denver, Honolulu, and Cheyenne, Wyo.

“A lot of it is just streamlining to get costs down,” said Hamerlik. “We closed the other offices and consolidated them back in North Dakota.”

Fargo headquarters

Most of the company’s employees work at the 156,000-square-foot Fargo headquarters at 900 42nd St. S., formerly the Village Square factory outlet mall, and two other nearby locations.

Job descriptions range from entry-level positions to staff physicians, five of whom serve across the country as NAS medical directors, Hamerlik said.

A sea of work cubicles fills the Fargo center where upward of

99 percent of claims are processed electronically. This reduces human error and provides quicker response times for providers, he said.

Security is very tight. Everyone entering the building must sign in and out, sometimes repeatedly when visiting separate sections of the facility.

“We have to keep track of everything that comes in here,” said Hamerlik, under the 1996 federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protecting patient medical records and other health information.

A winning team

In 2006, NAS secured a Medicare Durable Medical Equipment contract to administer claims for medical equipment – prosthetics, orthotics, wheelchairs, CPAP, portable oxygen, diabetes supplies – used at home by beneficiaries in 17 states.

“That was a good contract for us to get,” said Hamerlik.

Last year, Noridian’s DME employees in Fargo and Grand Forks processed 15.5 million claims for 23,655 providers totaling $2.1 billion.

In November, the DME team was named best customer service provider in the nation by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

It was the first time the award was presented, said Emy Stenerson, NAS vice president of DME Operations.

Stenerson credited winning the award to employee work ethic, innovation, technology and ability to serve and listen to customers.

“We’ve only been doing it for three years. We’re very proud of the progress we made and the quality of work that we’re doing,” said Hamerlik.

Last May, NAS signed a contract with officials in Xinxiang, China, to serve as third-party administrator for the country’s new social medicine insurance program.

To service the contract, NAS formed a subsidiary called Healthcare Administration Association of America.

HAAA currently has 12 employees working in China to establish a call center and data center under contract with the Xingiang municipality, with more hires expected in the future, said Amy Richardson, NAS corporate communications manager.

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor Craig McEwen at (701) 241-5502