DES MOINES — Jerry Foxhoven, who for the last nine months has guided the state’s controversial privatized Medicaid program and troubled child protective system, easily won confirmation Wednesday to continue leading the state’s Department of Human Services.
A well-known leader in child protection and family law, Foxhoven was tapped last June by Gov. Kim Reynolds as her choice to succeed Chuck Palmer as the leader of the state agency in charge of caring for Iowa’s most vulnerable residents.
A total of 28 Republicans, nine Democrats and one independent voted to confirm his gubernatorial appointment, while 11 Democrats voted no. A two-thirds majority, or at least 34 affirmative votes, is required to win confirmation from the Iowa Senate.
Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, told senators they would have to “look long and hard” to find a better candidate for the jobs than Foxhoven, who began practicing law in 1977 with an emphasis on trial practice in criminal and civil law and had been involved in juvenile and family law cases.
In 2000, he took over as administrator for the Iowa Child Advocacy Board and was responsible for developing and implementing personnel policies, strategic planning and public policy advocacy.
“I know Mr. Foxhoven is a great person,” said Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines, the only other senator to speak during Wednesday confirmation discussion. “We face a difficult decision here,” Petersen added, noting that Foxhoven was handed an agency that is “grossly underfunded” and “grossly understaffed” in trying to manage a “Medicaid mess.” But she laid the responsibility for that is on Reynolds, not him.
“I don’t know why anyone would want to run that department,” she said.
Foxhoven succeeded Palmer as head of a department that annually serves more than 1 million Iowans — many of the state’s most vulnerable children, elderly and disabled — and administers necessary services, including food assistance, Medicaid, child welfare, mental health and disability services, along with a workforce topping 4,600 employees.
At the time of his appointment, Foxhoven called the job “a dream opportunity.”
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Often a lightning rod, the department has received criticism since April 2016 when former Gov. Terry Branstad converted the state’s $5 billion Medicaid program to privately managed care for nearly 600,000 clients.
The agency also came under fire after state-run institutions in Clarinda, Mount Pleasant and Toledo were closed, and for its handling of child-protective services in the wake of the starvation deaths of two adopted teenage girls.
Segebart praised Foxhoven for earning the trust of department workers and building their morale in taking steps to address unresolved issues with the Medicaid program he inherited — from denied care for patients to unpaid bills for doctors, hospitals and other health professionals.
The state began with three companies under contract to privately manage the Medicaid program. The companies repeatedly have reported they’re losing millions.
One insurer exited after it and the state could not reach terms for a contract renewal.
While the state is operating with just two private managers now, two more have expressed interest in joining.
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