By James Grob, email@example.com
Along with education funding and job opportunities, Iowa Congressman Todd Prichard said that fixing Iowa’s Medicaid system would be a top priority for Iowa House Democrats when the new legislative session opens next week.
“The Medicaid privatization system has created a crisis for patients and people who are vulnerable across Iowa, with a lack of services and a denial of services,” he said. “It’s definitely ripe for a bipartisan effort. It’s time to do something. It’s time to act.”
Prichard, a Charles City Democrat, represents Iowa House District 52, which consists of Floyd, Chickasaw and the eastern third of Cerro Gordo counties. He was unopposed in the 2018 election, and will be sworn in as the new Iowa House Minority leader when the legislative session begins. Prichard was chosen to replace Mark Smith of Marshalltown, who told colleagues after the recent general election that he was stepping down after five years at the position.
Prichard said that while his visibility and responsibilities have expanded, the new position won’t change how he’s approaching the job.
“I don’t think my priorities and my policy goals have changed,” he said. “I’m definitely talking to a wider audience in terms of statewide press and media.”
He said that he will still be accessible and in tune with his district.
“I’m fielding a lot of questions from party members from across the state, and that’s my job, but my main focus will still be being the representative for Iowa House District 52,” Prichard said.
The numbers have changed, but the Democrats remain the minority party. Republicans have maintained control of the governor’s office as well as both houses of the Iowa Legislature. Kim Reynolds will remain as governor, and Democrats picked up five Iowa House seats to narrow Republican control, from 59-41 to 54-46, with one race still being contested in Iowa House District 55. Republicans slightly increased their margin in the Iowa Senate in the 2018 mid-term election, from 29-20 to 31-18, with one Independent.
Although the Republicans will control the agenda, Prichard said priorities for himself, and the Democrats, will include funding education, job opportunities and job training throughout the state — and right alongside those — fixing Iowa’s health care system.
“I think our two highest priorities are education and health care,” Prichard said.
He said he hasn’t heard a lot of specifics about health care from the other side of the aisle.
“I’m hopeful. I’ve talked to a few elected Republicans over the interim since the election. They’ve made at least statements that have said something needs to be done with Medicaid,” Prichard said. “Governor Reynolds made a lot of comments about it on the campaign trail. It’s time to do something, and if they’re willing to do something substantive, we are willing to work with them in that regard.”
Prichard said that oversight and adequate funding for health care providers will be the primary Medicaid issues.
“I’m hoping for more oversight and accountability in the system,” Prichard said. “The MCOs (managed care operations) really don’t have a lot of oversight, and they’re making decisions that I think are in their own interests, and not the interests of Iowa citizens — the people they are charged to work for.”
The state has approximately 600,000 Medicaid recipients, many of whom are in care facilities that depend on reimbursement on claims they file.
Many health care facilities have claimed they have experienced financial havoc since former Gov. Terry Branstad discontinued the state’s operation of the Medicaid program and turned it over to private MCOs three years ago. The state only saved about half of the money Branstad projected when he implemented the change, according to an audit released late last year by the Iowa State Auditor’s office.
“The clinics, the caregivers and the service providers have been caught in a financial conundrum,” Prichard said. “They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place with this system, because they’re getting denied their claims for service. From chiropractors to dentists to therapists — they’re not getting the reimbursements that they need for the services they provide.”
Prichard said this has cut into their ability to keep their doors open and their willingness to see patients who are covered by Medicaid.
“That needs to be addressed,” he said. “We need to make sure the entrepreneurs who provide these services are being paid.”
One new bill Prichard intends to personally introduce this session will be called “Logan’s Law,” if it passes. The intention of the bill will be to take an individual’s organ donor information, which is currently on Iowa driver’s licenses, and put it on hunting and fishing licenses as well.
“That’s definitely high on my priority list of something specific I want to get done,” Prichard said.
The law will be named after Logan Luft, a 15-year-old Charles City boy who died in an ATV accident in 2016. Luft’s organs were donated, and have helped save or improve the lives of many people.
“I’ve got draft legislation already written. I’ve talked to committee people about that bill,” Prichard said. “I’ve got feelers out there to try to get people to understand the issue and get excited about what we can do. I think it’s a great issue, and I think it’s a way to turn the tragedy of a loss into a very positive legacy for Logan.”
Water quality is another issue which Prichard hopes will be addressed this session. Last year, a bill to provide a long-term funding stream for water quality projects was approved by the Iowa Legislature, but Reynolds and legislative leaders all said that bill was only a start and more funding would be needed.
Other issues that could see legislation this year include Iowa’s redemption laws and sports betting, according to Prichard. Republicans have also shown interest in adjusting some of Iowa’s property tax laws.
“I think it’s going to be an active, busy year for the legislature,” Prichard said.