Gov. Kim Reynolds’ apparently abrupt decision to replace her own Department of Human Services director this week left Iowans with many unanswered questions.
Former director Jerry Foxhoven announced his resignation on Monday, but neither he nor Reynolds immediately said what motivated the leadership change. A day later, Reynolds’ spokesman released a statement to say this is part of a “new direction” for the administration, with “a new team, from top to bottom.”
That might be seen as a reasonable explanation for a brand-new governor, but it’s perplexing given that Reynolds herself appointed Foxhoven to the job just two years ago, about a month after she became governor. Foxhoven had previously been appointed to state panels by Govs. Terry Branstad and Chet Culver, a Republican and a Democrat, and he once called the DHS post a “dream opportunity.”
The sudden nature of the announcement suggests there may be some other factor driving the reorganization that Reynolds is not disclosing to the public.
The resignation adds to Iowans’ anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the state’s Medicaid program, which has suffered under a long series of missteps since Republicans transitioned it to a privately managed model three years ago. Costs to the state have continued to rise, while patients and advocates say crucial services are not being adequately covered.
The state has had trouble identifying and retaining managed care organizations to administer the program. One company ended its relationship in 2017, and another is set to leave at the end of this month.
The unexpected departure of the state’s top human services official surely does not give those private companies or the patients they serve any assurance that the Medicaid program’s problems are being worked out.
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With Foxhoven, a supporter of Medicaid privatization, now gone, the governor has an opportunity to rethink the model, and she should give strong consideration to turning part of the program back to state management.
Reynolds is doing her constituents a disservice with her failure to be transparent and forthright about the personnel transition. Reynolds should have made the announcement during a regularly scheduled news conference, and been prepared to answer questions about what her “new direction” entails.
Ongoing development for a statewide children’s mental health system, under the purview of the Department of Human Services, also demands strong and steady leadership.
Sooner than later, Reynolds must initiate a frank conversation with Iowans about her vision for human services. Vulnerable Iowans deserve answers.
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