ANKENY — Debating the state’s privately managed Medicaid program that cares for over 600,000 Iowans, Fred Hubbell accused Kim Reynolds of failing to make necessary changes and Reynolds accused Hubbell of promising more than he could deliver in their first faceoff Wednesday weeks before the Nov. 6 election.
Democrat Hubbell and Republican Reynolds, candidates for governor, appeared on the Des Moines Area Community College campus in the first of three televised debates, this one sponsored by the Des Moines Register and KCCI-TV.
Hubbell criticized Gov. Reynolds for sticking with private management of the state’s $5 billion Medicaid program despite persistent complaints from patients and health care providers that their care is lacking and payments are late.
Former Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, in 2016 handed off management of the health care program to private companies. Reynolds, then his lieutenant, has continued to champion privatization as a way to cut costs on an unwieldy budget item, though she has said improvements still are needed.
During the debate, Hubbell said she has not made sufficient changes.
“It is not working, and it is in fact getting worse. So we need to do something much different,” said Hubbell, who throughout the debate told stories of Iowans who have had issues with the Medicaid program. He then said to Reynolds, “You’re promising more of the same.”
Reynolds said “the bulk” of Medicaid patients are getting the services they need and acknowledged improvements could be made.
And Reynolds accused Hubbell of pledging to reform Medicaid without offering how the state would pay any cost increase as a result.
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“And you’re telling everybody what they want to hear and not talking about how you’re going to fund the system moving forward,” Reynolds said. “You have no details or no answers about how you’re going to fund the system.”
Hubbell said he’d take Medicaid back to where the state — not companies — has control.
Just as Hubbell sought to use the debate to highlight Medicaid, a central issue of his campaign, Reynolds challenged Hubbell to release more of his tax returns.
Reynolds released 10 years of full income tax returns; Hubbell released just cover sheets from one year of returns, from 2017 — the same year he announced his campaign for governor.
“I don’t know what you’re embarrassed of or what you’re hiding,” Reynolds told the retired businessman.
Hubbell said the information he released included total income, deductions and charitable contributions. Hubbell also said the tax information he released included sources of income. The information did note income from various boards and investments, but not which specific boards and investments.
“All of the information is out there,” Hubbell said, comparing his level of transparency to that of former Republican Gov. Robert Ray.
On taxes, Reynolds said if elected she would examine the state’s myriad tax credit programs and consider reducing the corporate tax rate, which she said would make Iowa businesses more competitive.
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Hubbell called state income tax cuts implemented this year by Reynolds and the GOP-led Iowa Legislature “fiscally irresponsible” with federal trade negotiations impacting Iowa’s agricultural economy.
“The governor wants to take more money out of taxes. That means more money out of education, more money out of health care, more money out of infrastructure,” Hubbell said.
Drake University political-science professor Dennis Goldford said he gave Reynolds the edge in the debate, but wouldn’t call her the winner. “The main response would be — to be continued,” he said.
Goldford said Reynolds was more aggressive in her approach and Hubbell struggled to make his case for change in the face of that.
“If you look at her campaign ads, she’s been running as everybody’s Iowa kid sister and tonight it became evident that Iowa’s kid sister knows how to use a knife and a baseball bat,” Goldford said. “She was very aggressive, at times rudely so — interrupting — but very well-rehearsed, very well-prepared.”
Hubbell was at his strongest when he responded to her claims about his wealthy background by saying he’s not seeking to be governor for the money but rather to make things better for all Iowans, Goldford said.
“A challenger has got to make the case that, No. 1, something’s wrong with the way that things are run and, No. 2, I’m the person that can fix that,” Goldford said. “While he’s got a different laundry list of things, his focus is her fiscal mismanagement. He needs to emphasize that a lot more I think, a lot more sharply.”
But there were times, Goldford said, that Hubbell had “a deer in the headlights” look.
The two will debate again Oct. 17 in Sioux City and a third time Oct. 21 in Davenport.
Early voting in Iowa is underway. Election Day is Nov. 6.