CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — One word could summarize Tuesday’s Medicaid forum hosted by former Gov. Chet Culver: confusion.
The more than 50 Medicaid recipients and caregivers who attended the afternoon meeting at the Cedar Rapids Public Library had many questions: How do you choose a managed-care organization? How do you figure out if your doctor is covered? And when is the deadline to choose?
Several individuals told the former governor, “I have no clue what is going on.”
Gov. Terry Branstad announced plans to transition the state’s $5 billion Medicaid program over to out-of-state managed-care companies in early 2015. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which still must approve the plan, delayed the transition from Jan. 1 to March 1, which is 21 days away.
CMS delayed the move because of readiness concerns, including an inadequate provider network and communication problems between the state and the providers and beneficiaries.
CMS officials did not respond to The Gazette’s request regarding the time frame in which it will deny or approve the state’s waiver request. But in its December letter to the state, in which it paused the transition, the CMS told Iowa it would like to review the actions taken to improve the readiness problems by Feb. 15.
Even with the delay, Medicaid enrollees Tuesday continued to recount stories about difficult-to-use websites, Iowa Medicaid and managed-care call center employees who are unable to answer questions and concerns over whether their enrollment with a managed-care company was accepted.
Another area of confusion: 130,000 Iowans were assigned to WellCare of Iowa, whose contract was tossed out by a state arbiter in December. Iowa’s Department of Human Services said last week that it was in the process of sending out reassignments, and while recipients are beginning to receive those new assignments, they must choose a managed-care organization by Feb. 17 for coverage to begin on March 1.
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“It’s one thing to make this change,” Culver said. “It’s another to make sure these questions are resolved.”
Culver told attendees at the library forum that he will take the comments and share them with legislators during a Feb. 24 Medicaid advocacy day at the state Capitol.
Rhonda Shouse, a Medicaid recipient and an event organizer, said after the forum that the advocacy day is meant to give individuals a voice.
Registration for the trip is open until noon Feb. 16, she said, and free transportation and a meal will be provided.
Shouse said organizers will help those who register find out who their legislators are so they can meet with them in Des Moines to discuss the Medicaid transition. Education also will be provided before the event on advocacy strategies and how state government works, including how a bill becomes a law.
Shouse helped organize a trip to Des Moines in December, which took 75 Medicaid beneficiaries and caregivers from Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Sioux City to the Capitol to attend a Legislative Oversight Committee hearing. There, state legislators spoke with representatives from the state Department of Human Services and the managed-care organizations.
“We want people to learn they can be very active in their state government,” she said. “People who may not have done that in the past.”