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Grassley Backs State Leaders As Insurer Pulls Out of Iowa Medicaid

John Pemble / IPR file
Sen. Chuck Grassley R-IA is backing the state's leaders as another insurer pulls out of the privatized Medicaid system, and calls on Congress to pass disaster aid for flooded Iowa communities.

As negotiations with an Iowa Medicaid insurer break down, the state’s senior U.S. Senator says he’s supporting the governor. Sen. Chuck Grassley says the privatization of the Iowa’s Medicaid system is "an entirely state decision". 

Late Friday afternoon, UnitedHealthcare announced it’s leaving Iowa Medicaid. It’s the second company to pull out of the program since 2016, when the state contracted out control of the government health insurance system for poor and disabled residents.

Gov. Kim Reynolds says negotiations broke down because the company called for "unreasonable and unsustainable" terms and opposed certain accountability standards that would have set pay-for-performance metrics. Grassley says Reynolds made the right choice.

“I think I’ve concluded that Reynolds is right to be tough, to push these insurance plans to focus on quality and value for Iowans, and evidently UnitedHealth didn’t want to do that," he said.

But UnitedHealthcare disputes that. According to reporting by the Des Moines Registerand The Gazette, a UnitedHealthcare executive says the state wasn’t providing enough funding to keep the program afloat.

UnitedHealthcare serves some 425,000 Iowa Medicaid patients. The timeline of when that coverage will end isn't clear. State officials say patients will be able to choose plans from Amerigroup of Iowa or Iowa Total Care.

Disaster Aid Funding Derailed

Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Grassley criticized Democratic lawmakers for voting down a disaster funding bill Monday night. The plan included aid for flooded communities in Iowa and Nebraska, as well as relief for communities impacted by Hurricanes Michael and Florence, and a spate of wildfires in 2018, but Senate Democrats say it didn’t offer enough support for hurricane-battered Puerto Rico.

Grassley says the vote puts Democratic presidential hopefuls in a difficult position.

“I’m disappointed in my colleagues who decry Washington political games, and this is being done almost every weekend with people that are on the campaign trail in Iowa, but then return to the capitol as senators, only to play political games themselves,” he said.

President Donald Trump has been opposed to expanding aid for Puerto Rico, which was hit hard by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. The storms ravaged the island as it was already struggling with widespread poverty and a crippling debt crisis.

Congress failed to reauthorize funding for Puerto Rico's food stamps program last month, forcing local leaders to cut back on the benefits, which a third of the island's approximately 3 million residents rely on. A plan by Senate Democrats would've expanded funding for the program, but Trump has criticized the effort, saying Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, are recieving an unfair share of federal support. 

"So many wonderful people, but with such bad Island [sic] leadership and with so much money wasted. Cannot continue to hurt out Farmers and States [sic] with these massive payments, and so little appreciation!" Trump wrote on Twitter.

Grassley says lawmakers will have a chance to reconsider the disaster funding plan.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter