Challenger Betting That Medicaid Problems Will Convince Iowans To Change To New Governor

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa–Fred Hubbell, a retired Des Moines business man and philanthropist, is making the Branstad-Reynolds administration’s 2016 decision to privatize Medicaid delivery services the main thrust of his Democratic campaign for governor this week.

Hubbell met Tuesday with about a dozen organizations that provide care to Iowans with physical, mental or developmental challenges. “Beginning day one, we’re going to change this system,” Hubbell pledged to the group if elected governor.

Nearly 700,000 disabled and low-income Iowans receive Medicaid services.

Hubbell's running mate, State Senator Rita Hart of Wheatland, headlined Medicaid round table campaign events scheduled Wednesday in Ames, Mason City and Cedar Rapids.

Providers, recipients and family members have complained ever since former Governor Terry Branstad, a Republican, shifted management of the Medicaid delivery system to private companies. Critics say the companies put profit over patient care and have reduced services and reimbursements, which endangered the health of recipients and threatened the financial ability to providers to stay in business. The providers expressed those concerns Tuesday afternoon to Hubbell at Link Associates in West Des Moines, an organization of 300 employees that offers services to 900 people with intellectual disabilities.

Hubbell said that he would shift much of the system back under state management, although he said it would take months for the full transition to occur. Branstad and his successor, Governor Kim Reynolds, have claimed privatization would save taxpayers hundreds of millions. Although, Reynolds' administration has faced criticism for failing to document the specific savings the switch has realized. 

Hubbell wouldn't say how much his plan would cost the state. "That's a great question," when Channel 13 asked him for a figure, "We don't even know what we're spending today."

Reynolds' administration agreed to increase payments to the private companies managing Medicaid by 7.5 percent in the coming year, which will mean more than $100 million in additional costs to the state treasury.

Reynolds claims that the system is getting better. She acknowledged after becoming governor in May, that her predecessor may have rushed the privatization. But she has appointed Mike Randol as the new Medicaid director in the state.

Her campaign released a statement following Hubbell's criticism of the system:

“Governor Reynolds is focused on getting results and help for every Iowan who relies on this Medicaid system. She is fighting to create affordable health care options for farmers, small business owners, and hard working Iowans. Earlier this year she signed comprehensive, bipartisan mental health care reform into law. Her opponent wants to go back to a broken, unsustainable system that could not guarantee long-term health care for vulnerable Iowans.”