- Associated Press - Friday, May 27, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Gov. Terry Branstad kept intact the entirety of proposed state spending for the upcoming budget year on Friday, also signing into law new oversight of Iowa’s Medicaid program under private management.

Branstad announced his decision on Medicaid oversight amid final action on a number of bills, including several dealing with the state’s $7.35 billion budget that goes into effect in July. Branstad, who has authority to veto policy bills and spending, kept all state dollars negotiated by the split Legislature.

While he vetoed some portions of the health and human services bill, the Republican left alone language that adds more state oversight to Medicaid, the program that provides health care to about 560,000 poor and disabled residents in the state.

In a message explaining his decision, Branstad said signing off on the oversight meant “Iowa’s Medicaid program will be one of the most transparent, outcome-focused, and accountable programs in the country.”

Branstad’s decision last year to switch Iowa’s roughly $4.2 billion Medicaid program to private management was criticized because it wasn’t approved by the Iowa Legislature. Lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Senate have since pointed to reports of miscommunication and confusion as examples of why the program needed more state oversight.

Senate Democrats continued to express concerns after three private insurance companies took over the program on April 1, and the inclusion of additional oversight - including required data reporting and protection for some Medicaid recipients seeking independent help on cases - became a sticking point in the days leading up to adjournment this session.

Branstad expressed some reservations early in the session about additional oversight of the program, though he also said at the time he was open to having conversations with lawmakers on the issue. In the end, it had been unclear what Branstad would decide.

Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City and chair of the subcommittee that helped draft the bill, said she was glad Branstad didn’t veto the legislation.

“This summer and fall, we will continue to listen to, and be vigilant advocates for, Iowans fighting for essential health care services,” she said in a statement. “The efforts of these Iowans, and the newly approved Medicaid oversight measures, are making it more likely that improvements to Iowa’s health care safety net will be made.”

Branstad had 30 days after the legislative session adjourned on April 29 to deal with remaining legislation. That deadline was scheduled to fall over the weekend, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. Branstad’s office said the governor had until Tuesday to make any decisions on bills because of the Memorial Day holiday.

Branstad’s veto power has received criticism in the past. Last year, he rejected one-time education funding and a deal to keep two state mental health institutes open.

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This story has been corrected to show that the next state budget goes into effect in July, not June.

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