Norris would end privatized Medicaid

Democrat says that will be his first move as governor

Messenger photo by Bill Shea
John Norris, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, speaks Saturday afternoon at the home of former state Sen. Daryl Beall and his wife, Joanne.

Democrat John Norris vowed Saturday to end Iowa’s privatized Medicaid system if he is elected governor.

“That would be the first policy initiative I would take,” he said during a Fort Dodge visit.

He called the current system “a complete failure.”

During a Saturday afternoon interview with The Messenger, and later during a speech at the home of former state Sen. Daryl Beall and his wife, Joanne, Norris said he would use an executive order to undo the privatization of the health care program for the poor and disabled.

The Medicaid system was privatized in 2016 by order of then-Gov. Terry Branstad. Since then, up to three different managed care organizations have overseen the program.

Even Republican legislators have acknowledged problems with the system, and current Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has said mistakes were made because of how quickly the change was implemented.

Across the state, patients have complained about the coverage they’ve received and health care providers have claimed that they’re not being paid.

“This privatization of Medicaid has just been a complete failure,” Norris said. “It is threatening access to health care in this state, particularly for rural Iowa and rural hospitals and it’s making victims of our most vulnerable citizens.”

To replace the privatized Medicaid system, Norris proposes gradually transitioning back to the former state-managed version.

“We were good at taking care of our vulnerable population, our disabled, our poor, our elderly,” he said.

“Now, with privatization, we’ve taken the same pool of money and carved out from that same pool of money a profit margin for commercial MCOs,” he said, referring to managed care organizations. “To me, it’s illogical to expect you’re going to get better health care when you now have to carve out a profit margin.”

Water quality bill

During an interview with The Messenger, Norris said he’s not impressed with the water quality bill recently signed into law by Reynolds. Supporters of the bill say it will fund millions of dollars worth of projects that will clean up Iowa’s streams and lakes.

But Norris said he sees a major flaw in it.

“My biggest problem is there’s no measuring or monitoring element to it, so we’re not even going to be able to track what progress is made,” he said. “You’ve got to have a bill that has significant monitoring and measuring so we can track our progress and really indentify the severity of the problem.”

Norris said he wants to impose a moratorium on the construction of new livestock confinements until the state’s rules for such facilities are revised. He added that he believes county supervisors should have the power to impose rules for confinements that go above and beyond the state rules.

Norris is a former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party who served as chief of staff to former Gov. Tom Vilsack. His other government service included stints as chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board, chief of staff to Vilsack while he was the United States secretary of agriculture and a member of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

He is in a crowded field of Democratic candidates for the governor’s office that includes state Sen. Nate Boulton, businessman Fred Hubbell and several others.