- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A Democratic effort to delay privatization of Medicaid in Iowa failed to advance during a legislative oversight hearing Tuesday.

Democratic lawmakers on the bipartisan Health Policy Oversight Committee sought to pass a motion asking Gov. Terry Branstad to hold off on implementing the privatization plan by six months, but Republicans opposed it and the proposal did not move forward.

Branstad’s plan to move Medicaid to private management starting Jan. 1 has drawn scrutiny over the projected cost savings, how contracts have been awarded and how the change would impact patients. Branstad has said the change will provide more streamlined service at a lower cost.

During the hearing, officials from the Department of Human Services told lawmakers that they were working hard to ensure a smooth transition to the new program. But Democratic lawmakers questioned the speed of the transition and asked why DHS could not say exactly how many health care providers have signed contracts with the new private operators.

“It shows a continued lack of preparedness to move forward with this,” Democratic Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City said of the lack of information about providers. “We ought to have a list at this point.”

Republican Rep. David Heaton, of Mt. Pleasant, said he was encouraged by the department’s testimony. “I think the services in the end are going to be better,” he said.

DHS spokeswoman Amy McCoy said the number of providers with contracts is growing and more details will be available soon. She said the number of providers is just one gauge for how strong the networks are, noting that another concern is how many types of providers have signed on.

Health care providers expressed concern about the transition during the hearing, with many saying they were worried about the speed. Representatives from the four companies hired to help run the program - Amerigroup Corp., AmeriHealth Caritas, UnitedHealthcare Plan of the River Valley and WellCare Health Plans - said they were working to sign contracts with hospitals and pledged to provide comprehensive care.

Only Amerigroup gave an estimate on how many providers had been enrolled in their network, saying the number was close to 10,000.

Branstad began the effort to move Medicaid to managed care organizations earlier this year, a shift that will affect most of the 560,000 Iowa residents enrolled in Medicaid. The program, which provides care to poor children and families, disabled people and some low-income adults, is funded with $4.2 billion in state and federal dollars. The plan is still awaiting federal approval.

Some losing bidders are contesting the selection of those four companies, arguing before an administrative law judge that the process was flawed. The committee did not focus on the contracting process associated with privatization, instead concentrating on the implementation process.

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