November 29, 2017

    More Uncertainty in Medicaid Privatization
    Text-to-911 Now Available in 94 Counties
    Iowa’s Unemployment Rate Falls, but Economic Growth Stalls
    Utility Scam Awareness
    Community Colleges Partner to Provide Services to Young Parents
    Historic Tax Credits Could Be Eliminated
    State Infrastructure Investment Paying Off
    New Fine Arts Standards Adopted for Iowa Schools

    More Uncertainty in Medicaid Privatization

    Over 200,000 Iowans learned last week that they now have just one option under the state’s Medicaid privatization system. That comes after the Reynolds Administration announced that one of the two remaining for-profit companies managing the state’s Medicaid program refused to take any new members.

    The announcement is just the latest in a string of bad news for Iowans and providers struggling under Medicaid privatization. The change also means thousands of Iowans will likely be forced to find new health care providers because not all Iowa providers are covered under the last for-profit company taking new members.

    Only three weeks ago, the Department of Human Services (DHS) announced that the managed care organization (MCO), AmeriHealth Caritas will pull out of Iowa on December 1st and at the time their members will be assigned to, or choose from, the remaining two MCOs. This is after a month long delay by DHS after AmeriHealth notified them of their intentions.

    After Medicaid members with AmeriHealth have been working quickly to determine which of the remaining two MCOs is best for them or their family member, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced that all of the Medicaid members on AmeriHealth Caritas will be forced to use UnitedHealthCare. This change is because Amerigroup announced that they have reached maximum capacity and are unable to take on any new Medicaid members.

    DHS is in contact with the federal government about the new change, which also includes new Medicaid enrollees. Families and Medicaid members that are being forced to move to UnitedHealthCare must now determine if their providers are contracted with them. If not, they may have to change providers, if one is available in their community. Around 10,000 previous members with AmeriHealth that selected Amerigroup will now be covered by the original fee-for-service until a new MCO is contracted with the state of Iowa.

    This change, along with the numerous previous changes, is harmful and confusing to some of the most vulnerable Iowans. This change continues to show that Medicaid privatization is a failure and the privatization needs to end soon in a manner that is respectful of the needs of the Medicaid members.

    Text-to-911 Now Available in 94 Counties

    Iowa public safety officials have updated their equipment so they are now able to accept text messages to 911 in cases of emergencies. Both wireless providers and counties have now updated their technology and call centers to allow for this type of communication.

    This update is not only about keeping up with technology, but also about offering 911 services to persons who need to text because they are hard of hearing, deaf, or in a situation where talking to a dispatcher would put them in further jeopardy.

    To date, six wireless providers and 94 counties have completed those updates. The providers are: AT&T, i-Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon. The five counties that haven’t updated their call centers are: Henry, Lee, Monona, Pottawattamie and Scott. These counties are in the process of updating their equipment and working with their vendors so that text-to-911 will be available soon after January 1.

    If you need more information about Iowa’s 911 program, including the 911 Communications Council, please visit http://www.homelandsecurity.iowa.gov/programs/E_911.html.

    Iowa’s Unemployment Rate Falls, but Economic Growth Stalls

    Iowa’s unemployment rate currently ranks the eighth lowest in the nation at 3.0 % in October. Iowa’s unemployment rate was 3.6% at this time last year, and the national unemployment rate is currently 4.1%.

    Despite Iowa’s low unemployment level, data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis out this week also suggests that Iowa’s economy is slowing. According to the data, Iowa’s second quarter economic growth was -.7%, dead last in the country. Iowa was one of only two states that showed negative economic growth over this period.

    This is particularly troubling given Iowa’s already tenuous budget situation. According the states non-partisan revenue estimating conference, $35 million will be need to be cut from the current year’s budget to balance the books before the legislature can begin to craft the budget for the next year.

    Utility Scam Awareness

    The holiday season is here and the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) is reminding Iowans to be aware of a variety of payment scams involving utility service. The scammers can target utility customers by phone, online, or by unscheduled in-person visits and may use aggressive tactics to demand immediate payment or threaten disconnection from electric or natural gas services.

    Specifically, these scams try to convince customers to purchase prepaid (Green Dot) cards, pay with a credit card, or provide other personal information. Iowa utility companies are required to provide advance notice to customers for potential service disconnection. The IUB provides the following tips to help utility customers avoid falling prey to scammers:

    • Do not let an individual claiming to be a utility representative into your home unless you have scheduled an appointment and verified the identity of that person.

    • Do not give personal information to individuals demanding immediate payment by credit card or prepaid debit/credit cards when receiving suspicious phone calls, emails, or an unscheduled visit from individuals claiming to be a utility company representative.

    • Never provide your social security or credit card numbers, or bank account information to anyone during these calls, emails, or unannounced visits.

    • If someone calls or knocks on your door claiming to represent your utility and demands immediate payment or personal information, hang up, close and lock the door, and call the customer service number listed on your utility bill to verify the status of your account or whether an employee was dispatched to your location.

    • If you feel threatened by the caller, the email, or by the person at your door, end the contact immediately and call local police or 911.

    Utility customers can also report suspicious scam activity by contacting the Consumer Protection Division of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office at: https://www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov/for-consumers/general-consumer-information/ or by calling 1-888-777-4590.

    Community Colleges Partner to Provide Services to Young Parents

    Nearly one-third of Iowa mothers age 24 or under have started college, but did not finish. Now, three community colleges are collaborating with the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) to provide assistance to expecting and parenting students.

    IDPH is one of 16 grantees nationwide through the Affordable Care Act to improve the health, educational, social and economic outcomes of expectant and parenting teens, women, fathers and their families. The services will make it easier for expecting or parenting students to attain their educational goals, and improve the health of themselves and their families.

    Des Moines Area Community College, Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, and Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids will each receive $360,000 for one year on the project.

    The funding is used to fill gaps, not duplicate services, in the areas of personal health, child health, self-sufficiency education and employment, and parenting supports. The colleges are proposing activities such as putting high chairs in the student cafeterias, and updating lactation rooms on campus.

    For more information about the IDPH Pregnancy Assistance Fund program, visit https://idph.iowa.gov/family-health/assistance-fund.

    Historic Tax Credits Could Be Eliminated

    The Republican tax reform bill that was recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives would eliminate the Historic Tax Credit program that has been very successful in Iowa.

    This program was approved by Congress in 1981 as part of the Reagan Administration and gives a 20% federal investment tax credit for fixing up buildings and properties that are certified as historic structures. The purpose of these tax credits is to revitalize areas around the nation and spur economic growth.

    In Iowa alone, over 250 projects have used these credits between 2002 and 2016, and these projects have produced almost $230 million in tax revenue and more than $1 billion in development and investment. Almost 11,000 permanent jobs have also been created using these tax credits. Nationally, this program has helped to preserve over 42,000 buildings, created more than 2.4 million jobs, and leveraged $131.8 billion in private investments.

    This bill still has to pass the U.S. Senate, where there is a separate bill cutting these credits in half from a 20% tax credit to a 10% tax credit.

    In Iowa, there is a state historic tax credit program that gives a state income tax credit of up to 25% on qualifying expenditures, which will not be affected by this legislation.

    State Infrastructure Investment Paying Off

    One of the largest investments in infrastructure in the history of the state is already making a large impact. The investment, made in 2015, has produced an extra $515 million for projects around the state. Of that money, $245 million has gone to state roads, $167 million to the counties, and $103 million to city street projects.

    The investment has been seen in every corner of the state, as all counties have added projects since 2015. A total of $100 million has been used for 237 critical projects, which also span all of Iowa’s 99 counties. Major state projects have included completing work on Highway 20 and Highway 30. Local governments have used the money for a wide range of projects including bridge repair.

    According to the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT), there are 24,410 bridges in the state, and of those, 2,071 are in poor condition, and 10,818 are considered in fair condition. There are also 4,953 bridges that are considered structurally deficient. There are currently 429 bridges that are closed throughout the state.

    New Fine Arts Standards Adopted for Iowa Schools

    The State Board of Education has adopted new fine arts standards for students in preschool through grade twelve. The standards will serve as a guide for Iowa educators as they develop curriculum, courses and classroom activities locally and are optional for Iowa schools. Fine arts generally include visual arts, music, theater, dance and media arts.

    The Iowa Department of Education convened the fine arts team earlier this year in response to public support for offering statewide standards that go beyond the mandatory subject areas. The team sought public input on the National Core Arts Standards through an online survey as well as public forums. The board then adopted the team’s recommendation of the National Core Arts Standards, which are used in 22 states and were developed by an alliance of national arts and arts education groups.

    For more information on the Fine Arts Standards Adoption Team, and their final report, visit the Iowa Department of Education’s at https://www.educateiowa.gov/fine-arts-standards-adoption-team.

    For more information on the National Core Arts Standards, visit: http://www.nationalartsstandards.org/.