Issue 7, 4/15/2016

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The Iowa Legislature is entering its final days.  While legislators are scheduled to adjourn on Tuesday, they will probably need the entire week (if not two weeks) to put the finishing touches on all the budgets.  There is still work being done on important things like finding a permanent fix to the mental health and disabilty services system, finding a good balance of oversight for the new Medicaid managed care system, and exploring options to pay for water quality. 

At the same time, advocates continue last-minute pushes to get legislation passed to expand Iowa's limited cannabidiol (medical marijuana) laws, allow fantasy sports gambling, address mental health workforce shortages, and legalize fireworks.  This is always the time of year when new ideas pop up, and dead issues find their way back to life.  Time may run out on good ideas if legislators do not hear from people about it, and bad ideas can end up law for the same reason.

So make sure you keep in contact with your State Representative and State Senator if you want them to take action on a bill or make sure funding is available for something.  Here are a few tools:

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The House and Senate continue to talk about funding for the regional mental health and disability services system.  Both want to find a way to fund this system, and make sure that funding is sustainable and equitable. 

  • Some members of the House have proposed a bill that would just extend the current system for another year (House File 2456), giving lawmakers more time to study the issue of funding.  Two counties do not have another year to wait, and are in dire need of funding this year.  To address that need, the Health/Human Services Budget (HF 2460) appropriates $3 million total to offset some of the shortfalls in funding in Polk County (which needs $7.1 million) and Scott County (which needs $1.6 million).  The Iowa State Association of Counties (which represents the MH/DS regions) opposes this approach, because it does not fix the problem and puts off a decision for another year (and after the election, when there are new legislators that may or may not know the issue). 

  • Some members of the Senate have proposed an alternative (Senate File 2318) that would create a permanent long-term fix to funding the regional mental health and disability services system. This bill would allow county boards of supervisors to set levy rates where they are needed to meet local needs, as long as they do not go above the current $47.28 per capita expenditure limit.  Under this scenario, property taxes in 73 Iowa counties would go down, and about 8 may be increased to meet new population demands.  The Iowa State Association of Counties, which supports this approach, says this bill saves $7 million in taxes statewide.  This happens because many small, rural counties are having to raise their property taxes to make up for larger urban counties in their regions that are frozen at a level that is too low to meet needs.  This approach is supported by Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa, Child & Famliy Policy Center, Easter Seals Iowa,  Epilepsy Foundation, Eyerly Ball Community Mental Health Center, Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Iowa Association of Area Agencies on Aging, Iowa Association of Community Providers, Iowa Behavioral Health Association, Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Iowa County Attorneys Association, Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council, Iowa Hospital Association, Iowa Police Chief Association, Iowa Primary Care Association, Iowa Psychological Association, Iowa State Police Officers Council, Iowa State Reserve Law Officers Association, Iowa State Sheriffs & Deputies Association, League of Women Voters of Iowa, National Association of Social Workers (Iowa Chapter), National Multiple Scelrosis Society (Upper Midwest Chapter), Orchard Place, United Way of Central Iowa, Veterans' National Recovery Center, and Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa.  The only opposing organization is Farm Bureau.

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Budget bills started appearing this week at the Capitol, and both the House and Senate worked hard to get them into position so they can be debated the week of April 18.  Here is a quick update on budgets:

  • Administration & Regulation Budget is Senate File 2314.  You can read more about this budget here.  This budget includes funding for the Department of Human Rights' Office of Persons with Disabilities and Office of Deaf Services as well as the Secretary of State (elections).  This bill is on the Senate floor.
  • Agriculture & Natural Resources Budget is House File 2454 & Senate File 2315.  You can read more about the House version of the budget here and the Senate version here.   It has passed the House 71-21, and both bills are now in the Senate.
  • Economic Development Budget is House File 2455.  You can read more about this budget here.  It is on the House floor.

  • Education Budget is Senate Study Bill 3185.  You can read more about this budget here.  Vocational Rehabilitation and the Centers for Independent Living (among other things) are funded in this budget.  It is in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

  • Health & Human Services Budget is House File 2460.  You can read more about this budget here.  This funds Medicaid, has $3 million for two MH/DS regions in trouble, and lots more.  It is on the House floor.
  • Judicial Branch Budget is House File 2457 and Senate Study Bill 3187. You can read details about these budgets that fund the courts here.  The House bill is on the House floor; the Senate bill is in Senate Appropriations Committee.
  • Justice Systems Budget is House File 2458 and Senate Study Bill 3186.  You can read details about these budgets that funds corrections, prisons, and public safety here. The House bill is on the House floor; the Senate bill is in Senate Appropriations Committee.

  • Standings Budget is House File 2459.  You can read more about this budget here.  This is usually an "odds and ends" budget where a lot of things get dropped at the last minute.  It's on the House floor.

We have not yet seen the Infrastructure budget, which spends gambling revenues on a variety of infrastructure (buildings, technology) projects.

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In our last issue of INFONET, we published information on how to contact the Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs for short).  We also provided you with information on how to contact Medicaid to resolve issues that may come up with the transition to managed care.   We left one really important resource off that list - the Iowa Insurance Commissioner's Consumer Advocate.

The Consumer Advocate can assist Iowans with issues that come up with their insurance - whether it is private insurance or with issues that arise with the MCOs (since they are insurance companies). The Iowa Legislature created the Consumer Advocate Bureau to ensure the fair treatment of consumers and prevent unfair or deceptive trade practices. Simply put the Consumer Advocate is here to try to assist and represent Iowa consumers in all areas of insurance.

The Consumer Advocate is highly skilled in addressing issues with insurers, since they are located in the office that oversees them.  They have a lot of information available to Iowans here, and can help people who have private insurance coverage, insurance through the Health Insurance Exchange (Affordable Care Act), or are having issues with their MCO.

You can call the Iowa Insurance Division Help Line at 1-877-955-1212, file a complaint online at www.insuranceca.iowa.gov/submit_complaint/index.html, or contact the Consumer Advocate at:

Consumer Advocate
Iowa Insurance Division
601 Locust St. - 4th Floor
Des Moines, Iowa 50309-3738
Phone: 515-281-4038

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Keep track of bills that may impact the lives of individuals with disabilities in our Bill Tracker.  Status is updated daily. 

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Most legislators hold public forums and town hall meetings when they are back in their districts on Fridays and Saturdays. These are excellent opportunities for you to meet your legislators, learn from them, and educate them on your priorities. Click here to find a forum near you.

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