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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 17, 2017

‘We are committed to higher ed,’ Reynolds says

By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette | Nov 29, 2017

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds assured Iowa’s public universities Tuesday that the state still wants to partner with them in preparing Iowans for the workforce — a reassurance the institutions were looking for after lawmakers last session cut their base appropriations more than $30 million.

But Reynolds didn’t specify what that partnership might look like in the upcoming 2019 budget year, including how much financial support the Board of Regents should expect. And she didn’t make any promises in response to the board’s appeal for $12 million more to be split among the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.

“We are entering another tough budget year,” Reynolds said after each of the university presidents made a funding pitch during a hearing that will help the Republican governor craft her budget proposal to the Iowa Legislature. “But we are committed to working with you and continuing to provide the students you serve with a great education.”

During their presentations, the campus presidents reiterated that they would use their share of the increase to provide need-based financial aid to Iowa resident undergraduates. Of the $12 million, $5 million would go to each to the UI and ISU and $2 million to UNI.

Typically by this time, regents have aired proposed tuition rates for the next school year. But after two years of last-minute increases following difficult legislative sessions, board President Mike Richards decided to delay the tuition debate.

He said in an interview Tuesday the board plans to hold its first consideration of tuition rates for the 2018-19 school year in February — after the new legislative session is underway.

“This year because of all the budgeting issues.” he said, “we thought it would be wise to wait and see.”

UI and ISU leadership have proposed 7 percent hikes for resident undergrads every year for five years if lawmakers don’t increase appropriations. UNI proposed an annualized 5 percent hike under the same conditions.

Several regents — along with some students and members of the public — say those hikes are too steep, and regents have focused on getting support to avoid them.

In making their case, the presidents tied their campus priorities to state priorities — specifically a push to bolster the workforce by increasing the percentage of Iowans with postsecondary education from 58 to 70 percent by 2025.

“We believe the University of Iowa has an important role to play in delivering that goal, and our strategic plan directly aligns with making it happen,” said UI President Bruce Harreld.

To achieve those strategic goals, Harreld said, the UI must invest between $155 and $165 million over five years. The university would cover a third of that through savings, leaving the rest to tuition and state aid.

“Our strategic plan specifically calls for increasing our four-year graduation rate to 60 percent, which is a 9 percentage point increase above our current four-year level,” he said. “This increase would add over 300 more graduates each year into the Iowa workforce ...”

With relatively strong median family incomes, Harreld said, Iowa has the capacity to fund top-tier higher education.

“Are we a state that aspires to national averages and mediocrity? Or are we one that aspires to excellence?” he asked. “We have the resources. Do we have the will?”

ISU President Wendy Wintersteen, who began in that role just last week, highlighted her institution’s research park, which boasts 82 companies and about 1,700 employees.

“We have built an entrepreneurial ecosystem and we are going to be about building that entrepreneurial culture into our undergrad curriculum as well,” Wintersteen said.

In UNI’s pitch, President Mark Nook acknowledged its recruiting needs to change. Promising UNI will keep cutting costs, Nook said it also must attract more out-of-state students who pay higher tuition rates.

“We will continue to admit and enroll as many of the students coming out of Iowa high schools as we always have,” he said. “But the non-resident students are a revenue stream that fully pay for their education, so they are important to us in helping balance that budget.”

 

By Michaela Ramm, The Gazette

 

Since AmeriHealth Caritas Iowa announced in late October it would exit the state’s Medicaid managed-care program, Molli Struebing of Dubuque has been working to find coverage for her son.

Kai Lowell, 30, who lives with Struebing, has received coverage through AmeriHealth since the state’s Medicaid program was privatized in April 2016.

Struebing said her son has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder, as well as cerebral palsy and Asperger’s syndrome. He also takes medication to control his seizures and gastrointestinal issues.

“I’m feeling panicked,” Struebing said. “He’s been doing so well for a few years that we’d hate for him to backslide.”

In the past week, 10,121 Iowans were told they would not have their coverage overseen by the two remaining managed-care organizations but will be handled by the state’s fee-for-service program.

On Tuesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds the Department of Human Services has put together a transition plan for the state’s managed-care program.

“Our goal is to make it as seamless as possible, to make sure that we continue to offer continuity of service again to Iowans who really need a coordinated care and need that extra help, and to really do everything we can to eliminate as much disruption as possible,” Reynolds said.

AmeriHealth — one of the state’s three managed-care providers — announced it would withdrawal from the Medicaid program on Dec. 1. UnitedHealthcare of the River Valley and Amerigroup have re-signed contracts for 2018.

DHS officials stated in early November that all former AmeriHealth members would be transferred to UnitedHealthcare. But members could switch to Amerigroup before Nov. 16.

Struebing said none of Lowell’s Dubuque-based doctors — including his primary care physician, a gastroenterologist, a neurologist and an eye specialist — were on UnitedHealthcare, so they made the switch to Amerigroup.

But last week, a DHS notice was sent to state lawmakers stating that Amerigroup did not “have capacity to take any new members,” according to the notice obtained by The Gazette.

DHS posted on its website Monday that the 10,121 members such as Kai Lowell who chose Amerigroup now would be covered by the Iowa Medicaid Fee-for-Service, a program in which services are paid separately. These members will receive coverage through Iowa Medicaid Fee-for-Service “until Amerigroup has capacity” to handle more people, DHS spokesman Matt Highland said.

A small percentage of Medicaid members remained on the fee-for-service program after the state privatized its program back in April 2016.

According to a notice sent to lawmakers Tuesday and obtained by The Gazette, roughly 40,000 members remain in the fee-for-service program on a monthly basis. This includes those on the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, native Alaskans, native Americans and those who use Medicaid on a secondary basis.

Despite the confusion that Struebing said surrounds these announcements, she is hopeful for the fee-for-service program. Lowell has been a Medicaid member for six years and was in the state’s fee-for-service program before the 2016 changeover.

While her son was on that program, Struebing said Lowell snapped his ankle and needed major corrective surgery from an orthopedic surgeon.

The program “was wonderful, it really was. We had no issues whatsoever,” Struebing recalled. “We were able to have his ankle done here in Dubuque because it was fee-for-service.

“All the doctors were taking it, all the specialties were.”

When he broke a wrist while under AmeriHealth, Lowell had to go to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for the procedure as no orthopedist in Dubuque accepted Medicaid.

But now, Struebing said she’s still uncertain if her son could see his doctors under this new fee-for-service program.

“We’ll have to see if those doctors are going to take it,” she said.

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