Johnson County caseworkers did not deserve to lose jobs
I have only been in this job a few weeks, but this is the first time I have come home simply seething with anger. The five of us on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors had to tell roughly 5/6 of the county’s mental health and disability caseworkers that they were going to lose their jobs, leaving more than 500 of Johnson County’s most vulnerable twisting in the wind, and there’s not a thing we can do to stop it.
Worth noting: We didn’t start it either.
With a zeal that was supposedly going to make government “more efficient,” Governor Branstad turned Medicaid management over to private firms with the Orwellian appellation of “Managed Care Organizations.” Less than three months ago, Johnson County caseworkers were assured that their MCO, AmeriHealth Caritas, “loved” their relationship with the JoCo caseworkers and were so glad that they made the decision to stay with them.
Earlier this month they learned, through the Des Moines Register, no less, that perhaps that love had waned. Happy Valentine’s Day, here’s your pink-slip valentine. Read that story here.
On Feb. 15, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors sent a letter, certified mail, to most of the upper echelon at AmeriHealth Caritas, asking them to reconsider in light of our caseworkers’ exemplary performance. We await a response.
These caseworkers did nothing wrong. Neither did their clients. But the former are out of their jobs and the latter are in limbo with an 800 number because some distant CEO needed to pad their stock value. Can’t blame the CEO though, they were just doing what they were hired for. It’s the ones who did the hiring. And that, my friends, is Terry Branstad and the Republicans in the state legislature.
The governor may well be about to board a slow boat to China, but his protégé won’t change anything, and the House and Senate Republicans are even more fully entrenched than ever.
An aside about the Republican party: It is looking more and more like the Republicans don’t have any actual Republicans left in their midst. No conservatives either. Over the last two decades they have pledged allegiance to ALEC and to Grover Norquist — he of the “no new taxes” pledge — who famously quipped that he wanted to shrink government “until it is small enough to drown in the tub.” They don’t want government to be more efficient. They want to kill it. That’s why the only solution they ever offer for anything is tax cuts. The goal is not to “let you keep more of your hard-earned money,” it’s to starve government of the resources it needs to educate children and care for our most vulnerable, all while they shepherd the largest upward transfer of wealth in human history.
Don’t get me wrong, I know there are plenty of people in my own party who are in bed with what Bernie Sanders calls “The Billionaire Class,” but comparatively, not nearly as many, and the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party is one thing now: #WOKE.
Here’s what I told the caseworkers that day: “There’s not one thing that’s fair about this. Not one thing. And I’m the new guy here so I do not know many of you — which has its own kind of sadness to it. But maybe because I am the new guy I can say this: It’s been mentioned here that this is all the fault of one person, Gov. Branstad. But I submit to you that there are a lot of others who are at fault, and they all work on the Hill in Des Moines. I suggest that if they are going to force you to lose your jobs, that you see to it that they lose theirs.”
I hope we can count on your help to make it so.
• Kurt Michael Friese is a Johnson County Supervisor.