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Medicaid official: Iowa is ready for privatization in March

The head of Iowa's Medicaid program on Monday said she's "very confident" the $4.2 billion system will be ready for private management beginning March 1, though some lawmakers expressed lingering concerns about the looming deadline.

Mikki Stier from the Iowa Department of Human Services told lawmakers her confidence came from more signups of Medicaid health providers to join the new managed care system, as well as better communication to Medicaid recipients about the switch.

"It's a broad network of providers that have signed up, our communication plans are strong and we are modifying those daily," she said.

Stier said wait times at call centers averaged about three minutes, an improvement from earlier complaints that people with general questions were being kept on hold for long periods. She also said training was being implemented around the state for health providers to be ready.

Stier told lawmakers about 45 percent of Medicaid service providers have signed up with all three private insurers. Some lawmakers on the committee said the number should be higher. Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, called the figure "grossly inadequate."

"In order to have the choice that most consumers are going to want, we really do want all the providers to sign up with each of the companies," he said.

Stier also said Medicaid recipients who were assigned to WellCare of Iowa — a private insurer no longer contracted with the state — would be getting letters in the mail in early February about reassignment to one of the remaining companies. Officials say it would affect about 134,000 people.

The state's Medicaid program provides care to about 560,000 people including low-income individuals, children and the disabled. Three private companies are scheduled to take over the program amid growing criticism from some lawmakers that the new setup needs better state oversight. The March 1 switch comes after the federal government put a halt on plans for a Jan. 1 implementation because of concerns that the state wasn't ready. Final approval is still pending.

A packed room at the Capitol heard from both Stier and DHS Director Chuck Palmer, who said the department was open to meeting with lawmakers to answer any remaining questions.

Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, said he wanted the committee to hold a few more meetings with the department to monitor readiness for the switch, calling it the committee's "responsibility" given the ongoing transition.


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