Expanding affordable health care for more working Iowans was a top priority during the 2013 session.
Our bipartisan work led to the Iowa Health & Wellness Plan. It’s Iowa’s approach to implementing the federal Affordable Care Act, which requires states to provide health care coverage to everyone below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (about $16,000 a year for a single person).
The goals of the Iowa Health & Wellness Plan include:
1. Making quality health care coverage available to 150,000 low-income Iowans who are currently uninsured.
2. Controlling health care costs for everyone by reducing the $1 billion in charity care provided each year by Iowa hospitals and rewarding health care providers for keeping costs down.
3. Focusing on prevention and improving health, which will help Iowa achieve the title of healthiest state in the nation.
The Iowa Health & Wellness Plan will begin on January 1, 2014. Iowans can sign up for coverage under this Plan or get private insurance through the “Health Insurance Marketplace.” Those with incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty level (about $48,000 a year for a single person) will be eligible for help paying for their health insurance to ensure it is affordable.
Iowans can sign up for coverage beginning October 1. In the meantime, if you want to learn more or start looking into your insurance options, go to www.healthcare.gov. This official federal government site will answer your questions about premiums, purchasing insurance, qualifying for help and more.
More than 75 Iowa organizations fought for this expanded access to affordable health care. AARP Iowa describes the Iowa Health & Wellness Plan as “a victory for Iowa’s working poor, including more than 17,000 Iowans age 50-64 that are between jobs or in jobs without health coverage.”
Business organizations, including local Chambers of Commerce, say that access to affordable health care is a workforce priority for the business community that will improve both quality of life and worker productivity.
2013 SUCCESSES WILL IMPROVE HEALTH, WELLBEING
Our efforts to expand access to quality, affordable health care got a lot of attention this year, but it wasn’t Iowa’s only health care success. Legislators listened to Iowans and worked together on a variety of initiatives that will help improve our health and wellbeing. They include:
• Getting kids screened for vision problems so that they are prepared to be successful in school (SF 419).
• Offering convenience by allowing licensed pharmacists to administer vaccines and immunizations (SF 353).
• Providing funding to inspect and investigate complaints at Iowa health care facilities (HF 603).
• Expanding access to tobacco cessation counseling through the Iowa Tobacco Quitline (SF 202).
• Preventing fraud by providing more tools for Iowa’s Department of Human Services to identify problems, collect overpayments and assess civil penalties associated with Medicaid (SF 357).
The improvements and investments Iowa makes each year have big payoffs. Iowa now ranks #9 in the nation when it comes to being physically, emotionally and mentally healthy, according to the 2012 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. We’ve moved up from the #16 position and aim to be #1 by 2016. Find out more about Iowa’s Healthiest State Initiative at www.iowahealthieststate.com.
When it comes to the health of our kids, Iowa is also showing gains. In the national Kids Count survey for 2013, Iowa ranks seventh in health, up from ninth last year. The number of children without health insurance has dropped dramatically as have low birth weight babies. Find out more at www.kidscount.org.
We’ve got some healthy momentum going, but it’s just a start. If you have ideas for how we can improve our health and wellbeing here in Iowa, please share them with me. The 2014 session will be here before we know it.
GOVERNOR’S VETOES HURT VULNERABLE IOWANS, PUBLIC SAFETY
Over the last several years, Iowa has been working on a better way to provide mental health care and disability services for Iowans. We are now in the middle of a statewide reorganization of our mental health system.
During the 2013 session, legislators worked in a bipartisan way to ensure nobody falls through the cracks as the state transitions to a regional mental health system. Unfortunately, Governor Branstad’s vetoes last week of crucial mental health funding could jeopardize public safety and the care of vulnerable Iowans.
Effective, accessible mental health services can prevent many people from entering the criminal justice system. State corrections officials have told legislators that Iowa prisons are the largest mental health facilities in the state, with more than half of Iowa’s inmates suffering from mental illness or substance abuse disorders.
According to an Iowa Poll in February, 74 percent of Iowans believe that the “lack of available treatment for those with mental illnesses” is a major factor in contributing to gun violence.
Some of the Governor’s vetoes that may hurt Iowans struggling with mental illness, their families and public safety include:
• Vetoing $13 million for Iowa’s mental health safety net (HF 648). Legislators voted to set aside this money to prevent those in need from falling through the cracks during the transition to a regional system. With the Governor’s veto, many counties will be forced to make cuts, denying essential services to people who need them.
• Vetoing $8.7 million to reduce waiting lists for home and community based services that help kids, seniors and Iowans with disabilities (SF 446). The Governor claims that funding to shorten the waiting list for services is not a successful long-term solution. But as we transition to a regional system—and with the state’s budget surplus at an all-time high—we must do what we can to avoid unintended consequences.
• Vetoing improvements to Iowa’s mental health advocate system (SF 406). After years of work and input from the courts, advocates, public safety officials, counties and the Department of Human Services, we voted to move Iowa’s mental health advocate program to the Department of Inspections & Appeals. The Governor’s veto means mental health advocates will continue to work at the county level, which has made for an inconsistent and inefficient statewide system.
NEWS YOU CAN USE
Operation Dry Water starts June 28
Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol is illegal in Iowa, just like driving drunk on our roads. Law enforcement aims to raise awareness of the dangers of boating under the influence with Operation Dry Water, June 28-30.
More than 70 percent of Iowa’s boating fatalities in 2012 involved alcohol, with many of the victims being innocent bystanders. To prevent the same tragedies this year, Iowa will increase patrols, conduct checkpoints and administer breath tests during Operation Dry Water. During the 2012 Operation, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and its partners contacted nearly 550 vessels containing more than 2,000 boaters, resulting in 136 citations or warnings.
New mobile app for Iowa parks & rec activities
Outdoor recreation has a positive impact on stress and obesity, according to a 2009 report from Resources for the Future, a national environmental policy center. Getting out and getting active can play an important role in helping Iowa become the healthiest state in the nation.
When you’re looking for things to do, check out a free new mobile app for our state parks and recreation areas. Download the app at http://iaparks.org and you’ll be able to:
• Decide which park to visit by searching for activities or by region.
• Look up park information, including rules and regulations, which is especially helpful for fishing and boating.
• View upcoming park events, which are updated in real time.
• Make overnight reservations when you’re planning an extended stay.
• Use GPS map features to mark waypoints and record and share your trails.
• Access Healthy & Happy Outdoors, a statewide database of more than 30 types outdoor recreation activities at more than 1,600 state and county parks and recreation areas.
Iowa driver’s license practice test available on Kindle
The popular “IA Driver Test” app, a practice test for the written exam that Iowans must take to get their driver’s license, is now available for Kindle devices. Use the free app as a practice aide after studying the Iowa Driver’s Manual. It will generate 25 questions, randomly chosen from among 69 included in the real knowledge test given at Iowa driver’s license stations. You can repeat the practice test as often as you like. The app is also available for iPad and Android devices.
Des Moines, IA 50319
2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601