Iowa Medicaid expansion plan gets federal approval

More than 100,000 additional low-income Iowans will now be eligible for health insurance coverage

Published December 11, 2013 2:11PM (EST)

Iowa was given the federal government's OK on Tuesday to expand its Medicaid program through a plan of its own devising.

Rather than simply open up Medicaid to a larger number of people, though, Iowa's unique plan would give newly eligible Iowans access to subsidized private health insurance. Iowa's original plan, partially rejected by the federal government, would have asked these new health insurance recipients to pay premiums. The federal government deemed this acceptable only for those recipients with earnings over the poverty level.

In a press release, Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said, “Iowa has pioneered innovative, state-based solutions for Medicaid expansion, and we are pleased to grant this waiver. CMS stands ready to work with other states to explore options that aim to improve care and lower costs in the Medicaid program.”

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Iowa will become the third state to adopt a partially privatized version of the Medicaid expansion, following a model used by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) and GOP lawmakers in his state and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and his majority-Republican state legislature. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) are still negotiating with the Obama administration over their Medicaid reform and expansion plans.

Branstad rejected the Medicaid expansion in 2012 but reversed his position earlier this year. The Republican-led Iowa House passed the Medicaid bill in May, following the majority-Democratic Senate.

The urgency of securing federal approval for Iowa's Medicaid plan was intensified by the need to preserve health coverage for tens of thousands of residents currently enrolled in a more limited program called IowaCare, which expires Dec. 31, the Des Moines Register reported. Those beneficiaries are supposed to transition to Medicaid next year.

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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Healthcare Iowa Marilyn Tavenner Medicaid Obamacare The Huffington Post