March 24, 2017

    Iowa's Workers' Compensation Legislation Moves to Senate
    Headaches Continue for Medicaid Privatization
    House Approves Bill to Lower Minority Incarceration
    Apprenticeship Awards Given to Iowa High Schools
    Recreational Trails and Clean Air Attainment Programs Receive Funding
    Stroke Data Collection

    Iowa's Workers' Compensation Legislation Moves to Senate

    Iowa workers injured on the job would receive less medical care and benefits under a plan approved by Republican lawmakers in the Iowa House.

    For around 100 years the Iowa's Workers' compensation law has acted to balance the rights of employers with those of employees. As part of the balance, if an employee is injured, they cannot sue the employer, and the employer will pay compensation benefits based on the type of injury the employee suffered while on the job.

    The Republican bill, which is now being considered in the Iowa Senate, makes numerous changes to Iowa's Workers' compensation. In addition to limiting how long an injured worker can receive benefits, the bill reclassifies how a shoulder injury is compensated by moving the injury from a whole body injury to a scheduled injury. This eliminates an additional benefit an injured employee may have qualified for had the injury been classified as whole body.

    Employers would also be required to take into account pre-existing conditions and past injuries in determining benefits for a new injury. Lastly, the bill no longer incentivizes employers to pay compensation benefits to injured employees on time. As a result, injured workers may have to wait years after they were injured on the job to receive compensation benefits.

    These changes would take effect on July 1, 2017, and apply to injuries and claims filed after that date.

    Headaches Continue for Medicaid Privatization

    A new dispute between one of the three for-profit companies managing the state's Medicaid program and one of the state's largest health care providers could soon leave 22,000 Iowans scrambling to find another health care provider.

    After reporting millions in losses earlier this year, AmeriHealth Caritas has notified patients of the Mercy Health Network that they are having difficulty getting Mercy to agree to lower reimbursement rates for the services they provide to Iowans on Medicaid.

    AmeriHealth has also informed providers that they will cut their pay for the services they provide to keep people in their home longer. As a result, many consumers will lose the services they need to stay at home, where they want to be. Studies have shown keeping a person in their home longer is more cost effective than a person living in a twenty-four hour care facility.

    Since it began a year ago, Iowa's Medicaid privatization has been plagued with trouble for patients and providers. Several health care providers have been forced to close their doors after lower reimbursement rates and delayed payments from the three for-profit companies now managing the state's Medicaid program. Last summer, the Governor even agreed to pay the private companies an additional $33 million due to them not making enough money.

    250,000 Iowans Lose Health Care under Federal GOP Plan

    According to the Iowa Hospital Association, up to 250,000 Iowans could lose their health care coverage under a new proposal offered by President Trump and Congressional Republicans to replace the federal Affordable Care Act. The United States House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill later this week.

    House Approves Bill to Lower Minority Incarceration

    A significant criminal justice reform bill passed the House this week which would have a substantial impact on reducing minority incarceration rates. The bill would change the penalties for crack cocaine offenses to bring the prison sentences more in line with the possession of cocaine. Under current law, a person can possess 10 times as much cocaine as crack and receive the same criminal penalty. House File 579 would reduce this ratio to 1:5.

    The bill will also allow a court more discretion in sentencing offenders for controlled substances. Under current law, the mandatory sentence for certain drug offenses requires at least one-third of the maximum sentence to be served before the individual is even eligible for parole or work release. Under the bill, the court would have more flexibility in sentencing these individuals.

    A new sentencing option of "standard sentences" is created that would allow a court to sentence offenders to a penalty other than the mandatory minimum currently required for certain crimes. The bill would also allow for the reconsideration of certain offenses that carry a mandatory minimum sentence to allow a court to resentence that offender.

    According to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency that determines the correctional impact of legislation, all of the offenders in 2016 for class "B" felony crack possession were African American. In addition, nearly 16% of new prison admissions for felony drug offenses that would be subject to the new, more flexible sentencing options for other controlled substances were African Americans. Finally, 25% of the prison population that could be subject to the new standard sentences is African American. This is despite the fact that approximately 3.5% of the state population is African American.

    HF 579 passed the House on a vote of 97-0 and has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    Apprenticeship Awards Given to Iowa High Schools

    The U.S. Department of Labor awarded a $1.8 million State Expansion grant to Iowa last fall to grow the Registered Apprenticeship System. Now, the Iowa STEM Council has awarded grants of $200,000 per grant to kick-start Quality Pre-Apprenticeship Programs focused on high-demand, STEM-related occupations.

    The following were awarded grants:

    • Boone High School - Semester-length, project-based opportunities through the School Career Connections and vocational rehabilitation programs initially in plumbing and electrical fields. Workplace partners include Kruck Plumbing & Heating Co. and ABC of Iowa Apprenticeship & Training Trust.

    • Muscatine Community School District - In partnership with Muscatine Community College, students will earn certificates in electronics and up to 38 credits toward an Engineering Technology Electromechanical Diploma or certificates in culinary arts and up to 32 credits toward a Culinary Arts Diploma. Workplace partners include HNI and Allsteel.

    • Spencer High School - Students take part in a construction extended career experience, receiving on-site job training for an average of 12.5 hours per week along with earning a 10-hour OSHA certification. Workplace partners include Milford Electric and Midwestern Mechanical.

    • Waukee APEX - High school seniors continue learning past the initial APEX course in the manufacturing, construction and technology fields. Workplace partners include MidAmerican Energy, Weitz Company, Master Builders of Iowa, Neumann Brothers Construction, Remodelworks, Pillar, LightEdge Solutions and Accumold.

    Because it is a learn-and-earn model, employers receive immediate help for their employment needs, while employees receive on-the-job training. According to Iowa Workforce Development, the average wage per year is $60,820 for a worker who completed a Registered Apprenticeship in Iowa.

    Recreational Trails and Clean Air Attainment Programs Receive Funding

    Six federal recreational trail projects throughout Iowa will receive over $1 million in federal funding after the Transportation Commission approved the projects last week. The program, created in 1991, is used for developing and upkeep of recreational tails and trail related facilities. Funding is available for state and federal agencies, as well as city, counties, and private organizations. To receive funding, the agency must go through an annual application based program.

    The Commission also approved $4 million for thirteen projects for the Iowa Clean Air Attainment program. Projects throughout the state will see funding to help reduce transportation related congestion and air pollution. The program was created in 1994 and is available to cities, counties, state agencies, and nonprofit organizations. The program rewards money through an annual application based program.

    Stroke Data Collection

    Stroke is the fifth biggest cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of disability, according to the American Heart Association. In Iowa, 6% of the population, or 62,000 people have a stroke each year and the average hospitalization cost for a stroke is $30,000. A stroke strips people of their ability to talk, walk, work, and enjoy many other things they once did. However, consistent data is not collected making it very difficult to improve outcomes.

    As a result, the Iowa House moved legislation mandating that the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Iowa College of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology to maintain a statewide stroke database that gathers information and statistics on stroke care that meets nationally recognized stroke measurement metrics. This information will help reduce duplication of data collection and help achieve better outcomes for stroke patients.

    The bill now goes to the Iowa Senate for consideration.