Iowa Senate moves to protect children's health benefits after Medicaid privatization

Bill would allow Hawk-i children with speech, hearing disorders to keep receiving therapy

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DES MOINES — Children with speech, language or hearing disorders currently enrolled in Iowa’s Hawk-i health program would continue to receive therapy as a medically necessary benefit if the state switches to a privately run Medicaid managed care program, under a bill approved 50-0 by the Iowa Senate on Tuesday.

Senate File 2145 requires that the Hawk-i covered speech therapy benefit under Medicaid managed care provide for coverage of both “habilitative and rehabilitative” services for children with speech, language, and hearing disorders as medically necessary.

The bill — which would take effect upon enactment, retroactive to March 1 — prohibits the determination of a service as medically necessary from being interpreted to require loss or impairment as the result of a stroke, accidental injury, or surgery to the head or neck as a prerequisite to coverage of services.

Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, told senators to expect to see other similar measures come before them for consideration if federal officials approve Gov. Terry Branstad’s plan to implement privately run managed care for Iowa’s 560,000 Medicaid enrollees, effective March 1.

“We need to make a very strong statement to the managed care organizations and to the Department of Human Services that we aren’t going to stand by idly and let services be ripped away that our children desperately need to remain healthy or to get healthy,” Jochum said during Tuesday’s Senate floor debate.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, who is an ex officio member of the Hawk-i board, said it’s “just wrong” to turn over the care of Iowa’s children to out-of-state private companies that won DHS contracts.

“I have deep concerns that this is just the start of a number of bills that we will have to take up to ensure that our children are getting the care that they need,” Petersen said. “We had a top-notch program for our children in this state with more than 26,000 providers who offered care to kids that were part of Hawk-i,” she added, but noted that number now has dropped dramatically.

“I’m outraged that the administration has basically ruined our outstanding child health care program and I think we’re going to see a lot more pieces of legislation like this trying to protect our kids,” Petersen said in comments during Tuesday’s floor debate on a bill that now must win approval by the Iowa House and be signed by Branstad to become law.

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