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DES MOINES - Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday the state's transition to privately managed Medicaid services is off to a smooth start and should improve health outcomes for the program's enrollees while saving taxpayers money.
On Friday, Iowa joined 39 other states and the District of Columbia by switching from a government-run, fee-for-service approach to delivering health care services to more than 580,000 Iowans to a network operated by three private managed care organizations (MCOs): Amerigroup Iowa Inc., Amerihealth Caritas Iowa Inc. and UnitedHealthCare Plan of the River Valley, Inc.
'By the reports that we've received, the transition to managed care has been smooth and went off without any major disruptions to Medicaid patients or the providers that are serving them. That's great news,” said Branstad, who commended MCO representatives and the state Department of Human Services at his weekly news conference.
'Nothing of this magnitude is going to be totally glitch free,” the governor told reporters, 'but the reports I've been getting is that it's been relatively smooth.
'There are all kinds of opportunities for people to call if they have a glitch or a problem to get that corrected as quick as possible,” he added. 'We don't expect anything to be glitch free, but we want to make it as seamless and as smooth as possible.”
That view was not held by every one in the Statehouse on Monday.
'It was not very smooth,” said Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque. 'I can tell you that we got phone calls over the weekend from people that weren't on beneficiary list for the MCOs, they couldn't get their prescriptions filled – it was not a very smooth rollout.”
Sen. Rita Hart, D-Wheatland, said she heard a lot of complaints from constituents who attended her weekend forum. 'People were not very happy there.”
DHS Director Charles Palmer told reporters that about 3,000 calls were made to a state hub of 350 workers created to help answer questions, sort out available benefits for Iowa Medicaid patients, and connect them with the health care professionals who treat them. He said the average wait time for people calling to get assistance was about two minutes on Friday.
'It was a very quiet weekend for me,” said DHS spokeswoman Amy Lorentzen McCoy. 'When issues arose, we were able to turn them around quickly.”
MCO representatives said up to 32,000 doctors and health care providers have contracted with them - a number that Branstad said is more serving Medicaid patients than ever before under the old system. He also said managed care will improve access to quality services and make available over 80 new value-added benefits while keeping other elements of the program unchanged.
Included among the value-added benefits were pregnancy and prenatal care programs, a 24-hour nurse hotline, boys and girls club memberships, weight management programs, and tobacco cessation programs, according to the three MCO representatives who joined Branstad at his weekly news conference Monday.
McCoy said overall the state hired seven new employees and have about 20 state employees dedicated to oversight efforts. Other workers handling calls or other duties are contract employees. Overall, she said the projected $110 million in savings will come from efficiencies and coordination of services not from a reduction in force of state full-time workers.
According to the MCO representatives, the numbers of Iowa Medicaid clients signed up as of Monday with each private company were Amerigroup Iowa Inc. 180,000; Amerihealth Caritas Iowa Inc. 203,000; and UnitedHealthCare Plan of the River Valley, Inc. 201,000.