Iowa mental health providers concerned with Medicaid instability

DAVENPORT, Iowa -- As the clock winds down, thousands of Iowans who rely on Medicaid are scrambling to find a back-up plan.

AmeriHealth Caritas, one of the three companies managing Iowa's Medicaid system, is ending its services on November 30, 2017.

"It feels like a crisis right now, trying to get this resolved quickly, because as of December 1st, which is Friday, thousands of Iowans will not have coverage," said Chris McCormick Pries, clinical director at Vera French Community Mental Health Center.

On Wednesday, mental health professionals at Vera French shared their concerns with Iowa lawmakers, explaining that mental health patients will be especially vulnerable.

"Medicaid is such a big part of their life, and it's what covers their mental services to a large degree," said Richard Whitaker, CEO of Vera French.

Whitaker called on legislators to bring stability to the state's Medicaid system.

"Number one, they can solve this MCO (managed care organization) issue. We've got to get to where Medicaid funding is more stable, like it used to be," said Whitaker.

The State has agreed temporarily oversee benefits for some Iowa Medicaid patients who were dropped by AmeriHealth. The State plans to manage about 10,000 people who tried to switch to one of the other providers, Amerigroup.

Those patients will remain under state management until Amerigroup can build up enough capacity to take over the additional cases.

However, the uncertainly surrounding the system has caused frustration for both patients and healthcare workers.

"Is that going to leave a number of Iowans uninsured? And that's not just for mental health. What if they fall and break their leg? What if they have heart disease?" said McCormick Pries. "This is going to impact people immediately, and that becomes very problematic."

It's still unclear how long affected patients will receive coverage through the state's fee-for-service model.

The state used the reimbursement payment system before it privatized in 2016.