January 26, 2018

    Lawmakers Push to End Medicaid Privatization
    Water Quality Bill Headed to Governor
    Traffic Camera Ban Clears First Hurdle
    “Bottle Bill” Recycling Return Rate Down
    New Legislation to Protect Bald Eagles in Iowa
    Medical Cannabidiol Adopts Forms and Quantity of Medicine
    Child Abuse and Welfare in Iowa; Reynolds Recommends More Cuts
    Iowa Chosen for Study to Improve Early Childhood Care Workforce

    Lawmakers Push to End Medicaid Privatization

    A group of Iowa lawmakers are pushing a new bill to end Iowa’s Medicaid privatization experiment. The move comes after another year of turmoil and confusion for Iowans on Medicaid.

    Since it was privatized nearly two years ago, lawmakers have heard countless stories from Iowans who are still struggling to get the health care services they need from the out-of-state, for-profit companies now running Medicaid, called Managed Care Organizations (MCO). Last fall, a man from Northwest Iowa died after the care he received in his home for 20 years was cut off by one of the MCO’s and he was forced into a facility.

    Many Iowans have also raised concerns about the high cost of Medicaid privatization. In addition to getting an additional $60 million this year from the Reynolds Administration, the for-profit MCO’s can keep up to 15% of taxpayer dollars to administer the program. Before privatization, just 4% of Medicaid dollars were spent on administration.

    Just last week, lawmakers learned from an investigative report that over 200 Iowa families have been denied critical health care from the private companies and are stuck trying to get the care they need in a long appeals process. Privatization has also reduced care options for Iowans after one of the MCO’s left Iowa last fall and another stopped taking new patients.

    Medicaid is a federal and state partnership that provides health care to 600,000 Iowans, including nursing homes. According to recent estimates, about 70% of Medicaid dollars are used for the elderly, severely disabled, and poor.

    The bill to end Medicaid privatization, Senate File 2058, is currently in the Senate Human Resources Committee. Another bill ending Medicaid privatization, HF 2104, has also been introduced in the House.

    Sign the Petition

    In an effort to work together, Democratic lawmakers are calling on Iowans to sign a petition to join them in pushing Governor Kim Reynolds and Republican lawmakers to end Iowa’s failed Medicaid privatization.

    Water Quality Bill Headed to Governor

    Legislation that directs existing money to the state’s ongoing water quality efforts will be heading to the Governor.

    First approved by the Iowa Senate last year, the bill creates a new water excise tax. The new excise tax diverts funds from the state’s general fund, which currently pays for expenses such as schools and Medicaid, into a new Water Quality Financial Assistance Fund. Additionally, $15 million from the state’s Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund will be used beginning in 2021.

    Crafted behind closed doors last year without input from the Minority Party, many lawmakers believe the bill is inadequate. The bill does not provide enough resources, has no accountability of taxpayer dollars, and does not use a watershed approach that involves local communities. The bill also has no monitoring structure to measure if any progress is being made to improve water quality.

    The money from the excise tax will flow to the Water Quality Assistance Fund and will help support drinking water and source water protection projects as well as create a new loan program designed to provide financial assistance to enhance surface and groundwater. Money will also be used for conservation practices such as terraces, grass waterways, buffer strips and cover crops.

    The legislation passed the Iowa House 59-41 and now awaits the Governor’s signature.

    Traffic Camera Ban Clears First Hurdle

    Drivers in Iowa could soon not have to worry about getting a ticket in the mail from being caught speeding or running a red light by one of the traffic cameras set up in local communities across the state. There are currently just under 80 automated traffic enforcement cameras (ATE) that are operated by 8 cities and 1 county. The goal of ATEs is to assist local law enforcement on traffic control and patrol roadways where it would be too dangerous to pull someone over.

    Proponents of the ban on ATEs claim that local communities have become dependent on the revenue from the cameras and the focus is no longer on public safety. As of February 1, 2017 there was a total $13 million in local revenue from the cameras. The companies who own the cameras made approximately $6 million.

    Opponents of the ban on ATEs prefer more regulation on the cameras and more of an appeal process from local residents as opposed to an outright ban. There were a total of 228,590 citations collected as of February 1, 2017.

    A similar proposal that regulates the ATEs is moving through another committee.

    “Bottle Bill” Recycling Return Rate Down

    The number of containers returned that are covered under Iowa’s so called “bottle bill” have decreased over the last decade. The return rate for aluminum, plastic, and glass containers that have a 5 cent deposit on the containers decreased from 86% in 2007 to 71% this year. Aluminum was returned at 69%, plastic at 60%, and glass at 83%.

    The data is part of a study completed by the DNR every five years called the Waste Characterization Study. The study determines what is ending up in landfills by taking samples of solid waste and recyclable materials. The study was used along with sales data from the Container Recycling Institute to determine return rates of each container type.

    There are several bills that may be considered this session dealing with Iowa’s “bottle bill.” The different bills take several different approaches, including increasing the handling fee for recyclers that deal in bottle bill eligible containers, making more containers subject to the deposit, or eliminating the container deposit entirely.

    All of the bills are currently in House Committees, so any bill would have to pass House and Senate Committees, as well as each chamber, before being signed by the Governor to become law this year.

    New Legislation to Protect Bald Eagles in Iowa

    Every winter thousands of eagles migrate to Iowa from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 2007, but they remain protected by federal legislation. In Iowa, eagles are grouped with other birds meaning the maximum fine for illegally selling, taking, catching, killing, injuring, destroying, or possessing an eagle is $50. A bill introduced this year, House File 2037, would increase the fine to $2,500. The bill is currently in the Natural Resources Committee in the House.

    In Iowa, eagles typically gather around open water with the Mississippi and Des Moines Rivers being particularly popular areas. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources and volunteers record the number of eagles in Iowa during the first two weeks in January as part of the Bald Eagle Midwinter Survey. Since the early 1990s when the Bald Eagle Midwinter Survey began, eagles in Iowa have steadily increased. There is an eagle’s nest south of the city of Decorah with a camera setup nearby. Tune into the eagle cam, here, to watch the eagles.

    Medical Cannabidiol Adopts Forms and Quantity of Medicine

    At their January meeting, the Medical Cannabidiol Advisory Board (Board) discussed and adopted administrative rules regarding the requirements for form and quantities that will be sold in the dispensaries and laboratories. They also set their meetings dates for the 2018 year.

    A total of four different forms of medicine were approved: oral, topical, inhaled, and suppository. These rules are necessary so that the manufacturer knows what forms of medicine they can produce to be sold at the dispensaries. The language adopted by the Board retains the intent of the legislation by prohibiting the manufacturer from producing medical cannabidiol that could be smoked or in an edible (food-like) form.

    For quantity, the Board set a maximum limit of a 90-day supply that will be allowed to be purchased from either a patient or a care giver. Their proposed rules don’t state how much of each form is considered to be a 90-day supply; with the thought that what constitutes a 90-day supply will depend upon a variety of factors. The Board dismissed the thought that a 90-day supply would open up the possibility of reselling the product to persons that are looking to get high because the medicine will be too expensive and not have enough THC to achieve that goal.

    Under the legislation that was adopted by the 2017 Legislature, each licensed manufacturer is required to contract with a laboratory to perform spot-check testing of the manufacturer’s product. The manufacturer can contract with the State’s Hygienic Laboratory or an independent cannabidiol testing laboratory, and the manufacturer must pay for all testing.

    Future Meeting Dates

    The Board is limited to four meetings per calendar year, unless the Legislature makes a change to the law. The future meeting dates of the Medical Cannabidiol Advisory Board are: March 9, May 4, Aug. 3, and Nov. 2. Each of these dates falls on a Friday.

    Child Abuse and Welfare in Iowa; Reynolds Recommends More Cuts

    Last week, Jerry Foxhoven, the Director of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS), sat before the Government Oversight Committee to explain what the Reynold’s Administration is doing in response to the deaths of two teenage girls who were adopted out of the foster care system.

    Legislators expressed their concerns about the potential abuse taking place within the system, and how these two girls fell through the cracks. A recent report completed by an outside organization, the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group, found several ways the Department needed to take action in order to protect these children.

    One big issue brought up was the heavy caseloads of the DHS workers who make home visits and determine if the home is safe for the child. Many times, one worker is in charge of several different families, and it falls on their shoulders to make sure the child is healthy and safe.

    The problem is compounded by the fact that DHS staff has decreased by 1,242 employees over the last eight years. Of those employees, 413 employees were field staff that do home checks and work directly with the Iowa families. This year, Governor Reynolds has recommended another $7.77 million cut to DHS field staff which continues the trend of fewer employees and higher caseloads for workers.

    With the Reynolds Administration and the Majority Party’s mismanagement of the state budget, these abuse reports will continue to rise and more kids may fall through the cracks.

    Iowa Chosen for Study to Improve Early Childhood Care Workforce

    Iowa has been selected for a national study called “Moving the Needled on Early Childhood Compensation.” It is administered by the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® National Center at Child Care Services Association.

    Teachers working in child care settings in Iowa earn roughly half that of teachers working in public schools, and pay in the childcare workforce is lower than 97% of all U.S. occupations. Iowa is one of only eight states chosen to participate in this two-year project that will attempt to eventually impact state policy and legislation around workforce issues of child care workers.