Medicaid privatization debate continues

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad at an event Sept. 9, 2014 in the Gallery Room of the Memorial Union.

Alex Hanson

The move to privatize Iowa’s Medicaid system has hit a new stage, with at least one Republican legislator voting to stop the privatization, and former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver joining in on the debate.

Gov. Terry Branstad’s plan is to “modernize” the state’s $4.2 billion program that provides health care to the poor. The governor has said the plan, which will pay three private health care companies in the state to manage the program, will save more than $50 million during the first few months.

Democrats in Iowa, including Ames legislators Herman Quirmbach, Lisa Heddens and Beth Wessel-Kroeschel, have said the transition is moving too fast and that privatizing the program risks kicking people out of their current care.

Culver, often mentioned as a possible candidate for Congress, decided to jump in on the issue and convene town hall meetings on the issue. He also wrote a commentary piece for the Des Moines Register in late January voicing his displeasure with the plan.

“Half a million Iowans use Medicaid for their health care needs,” Culver said in a statement. “But Iowa’s swift move toward privatization is putting peoples’ health at risk. Iowans with disabilities who use Medicaid — more than 120,000 people — stand to lose the most with this move.”

Culver has two town halls scheduled for Tuesday in Coralville and Cedar Rapids that are open to the public to share their thoughts.

“Our purpose here is simple — to make sure that first and foremost, the health care needs of Iowans are guaranteed,” Culver said. “I encourage all Iowans to get involved on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of our friends, family members and neighbors who have been left out in this rush to privatization.”

Branstad told reporters at the statehouse Monday that his administration fixed a fiscal mess created by the Culver administration. 

“We dug out of that big hole that he created,” Branstad said. “For him to now join with Senate Democrats to try to torpedo a thoughtful, systematic approach to modernize Medicaid to improve the health of Iowans and to better coordinate care, something that has already been done in big states controlled by Democrats like New York and California, I think is outrageous.”

Senate Democrats have also introduced legislation that would terminate the privatization. Titled the “Health Care Protection Act,” the bill, along with ending privatization, would direct “the State of Iowa to continue previous efforts to improve patient outcomes, increase access to care and continue to make the public management of Medicaid more efficient,” according to a release from Senate Democrats last week.

The Senate Human Resources Committee voted in favor of the bill Monday afternoon.

One Republican, Sen. David Johnson, R- Ocheyedan, joined Democrats in favor of the bill. 

“I don’t want this thing to become a partisan issue,” Johnson told the Des Moines Register last week. “That doesn’t help somebody who is struggling to make it through.”

The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration. It would also need to be approved by the House, which is narrowly controlled by Republicans. Branstad declined to comment on if he would veto the bill if sent to his desk.