- Associated Press - Friday, November 6, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Federal officials reviewing Iowa’s plans to switch its $4.2 billion Medicaid program to private care have concerns about the state’s timetable for implementing the changes, according to a letter sent Friday to an Iowa official.

Timothy Hill with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said officials will need to ensure certain conditions are met before the agency will sign off on the changes, slated to take place Jan. 1.

“CMS has significant concerns that the implementation timeframes for the transition to managed care may place access, continuity of care, and quality of care for beneficiaries at risk,” reads the letter from Hill, who is deputy director of the Center for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program Services.

The agency also said it has concerns about the extent to which managed care organizations, providers, and Medicaid recipients are prepared for the transition.

The letter is addressed to Mikki Stier, who oversees Medicaid services for the Iowa Department of Human Services.

When asked directly about the statements, DHS spokeswoman Amy Lorentzen McCoy said the department is working closely with federal officials to demonstrate the state is ready for the changes.

“The majority of Medicaid members across the country have their care coordinated in this manner, and now Iowa is enlisting modern health plans that will provide preventive services and incentives beyond what Medicaid has traditionally offered,” she said in a statement.

Hill says state officials recently have provided additional materials. CMS currently is reviewing them, according to the letter. In the meantime, the federal agency will conduct four listening sessions via conference calls in November to check in with advocates, consumers and providers, according to McCoy.

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.

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

Some Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Human Resources Committee released a statement Friday that said the letter raises concerns the proposal “is too much, too fast and failing to protect vulnerable Iowans.”

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