Lawmakers seek to halt or amend Branstad's plan to privatize Iowa's Medicaid program

Two Democratic lawmakers on Thursday asked federal officials to halt or amend Gov. Terry Branstad's plan to privatize Iowa's Medicaid program.

Sen. Amanda Ragan, of Mason City, and Sen. Liz Mathis, of Robins, sent a letter to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, asking that officials deny Iowa's application to set up the private system.

"We are worried that hundreds or even thousands of Iowans will be put at risk by management companies that will profit by denying critical services to seniors, people with physical and mental disabilities, children and moms," they state in their letter.

If a denial is not an option, the lawmakers ask that the state be subject to additional terms, including a longer time period to phase-in the new program. They argue that the plan to implement the new system in January is moving too quickly.

In a statement, Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said the shift will help the state find savings, while improving care.

The state began the effort to move Medicaid to managed care organizations earlier this year and is awaiting federal approval for the plan. Last month, the state announced that four national companies will take over management of the program. They are Amerigroup Corp., AmeriHealth Caritas, UnitedHealthcare Plan of the River Valley and WellCare Health Plans.

Roughly 560,000 people are enrolled in Iowa's Medicaid program, which provides care to poor children, families and disabled people, as well as some low-income adults. It is funded with $4.2 billion in state and federal dollars.

An email seeking comment from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was not immediately returned.