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 Statehouse News

The 2019 session officially adjourned on Saturday, April 27.  We had a late night on Friday and came back for an early morning on Saturday to finish our business for the year.  

It’s hard to believe all that has happened in the last four months! As a new legislator, some days could feel like I was drinking from a firehose (the most overused expression in the Capitol for sure).  But it didn’t take too long to get into the groove of committee meetings, working with my colleagues, speaking on the House floor, and trying to stay on top of all my emails.  I am so glad I had a fantastic clerk – Shannon Sankey – who helped keep me on track!  I am also grateful to the Iowa House Democrats policy staff for their tireless work in breaking down all the legislation and answering a lot of questions!  

We had some good bipartisan achievements that I am proud to have been a part of.  A top priority was extending SAVE to fund school infrastructure.  With the sunset date approaching; thereby making it next to impossible for districts to bond against the fund, extending the sunset date to 2051 has been a key focus for Democrats for several years.  We were finally able to get the majority party on board this year. This is a huge win for our school districts across the state!  It’s also a win for taxpayers as the legislation includes increased property tax relief as part of the formula.

On the health care front, I am particularly happy about two bills that made their way through the process this year.  I am pleased that we expanded medical cannabis to give more options to patients.  I am also very happy that we took the first step in creating the infrastructure for a children's mental health system. I am still a bit disappointed that the children’s mental health bill didn’t include more on prevention, but I am absolutely willing to acknowledge when good first steps are taken.  It’s important to note, however, that dedicated funding for this program was not included in the HHS budget this year, so we will need to keep pushing for real funding of mental health care in Iowa next year.

There are several other bills I was happy we moved forward this year – too many to name all of them but a few include the cultivation of hemp as an agricultural product, passing the Iowa CARE Act, expanding education on organ donation, increasing the number of families who are eligible to receive funds from the Injured Veterans Grants Program, and changing election laws to ensure absentee ballots will be counted.  

Unfortunately for Iowans, this session will be remembered for what the majority party refused to do to help everyday Iowans and working families get ahead.

- NO action to fix the Medicaid privatization mess
- NO action to address the cliff effect and child care deserts
- NO action on conservation to fund Iowa's Water and Land Legacy
- NO action to address the skyrocketing cost of higher education by continuing to underfund our Regents universities

Instead, in the final few days of the session, leadership in the majority party prioritized divisive policies and petty politics over efforts to build a better Iowa.  

Although supporters of changing judicial nominating commissions couldn’t get enough support for their bill this year, they used the “Standings” bill in the final days of session to include a modified version of the legislation as an amendment.  Standings is sometimes called “the Christmas Tree Bill” because it includes a great variety of appropriations and policy changes all lumped together. I believe changing the judicial nominating commissions injects politics into our independent judiciary and I was deeply disappointed that this maneuver was made in the final hours of the session.
The Health & Human Services budget is also a place where last minute bad ideas are frequently included and this year was no exception.  The majority party amended the budget bill to reduce access to sex education by defunding Planned Parenthood.  Planned Parenthood is one of the few organizations in the state that applies for grants from DHS and IDPH to provide comprehensive, age appropriate and medically accurate sex education in our schools and other after school programs across the state.  Teen pregnancies are at historic lows in Iowa in part because of the work of Planned Parenthood educators – the rates have decreased by over 20% in Polk County alone!  It’s infuriating that this idea, which was proposed as a stand alone bill earlier this session as well as an amendment that was withdrawn on the House’s version of the HHS budget, didn’t have the votes to pass. But it was included by Senate Republicans and then accepted by House Republicans because they just wanted to finish the budget and go home.  Taking one of our primary providers of sex education out of the conversation will only lead to less knowledge for our kids and very likely, more unintended teen pregnancies.  

The amendment also included a provision to codify discrimination in health care against transgender Iowans.  The Iowa Supreme Court recently ruled that gender identity in Iowa’s civil rights code meant that Medicaid could not deny coverage for gender-conforming surgery.   In response, the majority party decided to change the law so that those on Medicaid, as well as any state or local government employees, will be denied coverage for these surgeries.  Some will argue that these procedures are “cosmetic”, but as someone who has friends going through this process, I can tell you that argument couldn’t be further from the truth.  Our fellow Iowans who are transgender or intersex are already marginalized and suffer from high rates of suicide.  The last thing we should be doing as a state is deny them access to health care.  And on top of that, we shouldn’t be making such a thoughtless decision in the final hours of a legislative session.  

While these last minutes items made the last few days of session a bit rough, I am proud of the things we were able to accomplish. I look forward to continuing to work on many of the issues that weren’t tackled in 2019.  

I hope you enjoyed my weekly newsletters from the Capitol!  It has always been my goal to be transparent and thorough in my communications about what is happening in the Legislature.  I’ll send some periodic newsletters during the interim when there are some important updates to share.

I remain grateful for the opportunity to serve Iowans in House District 38!  Please don’t hesitate to reach out at any time with questions or concerns. 

News from the Statehouse

Throughout 2019 Session Democratic Lawmakers Push to Fix Medicaid Privatization

Ever since the Governor unilaterally privatized Medicaid in 2016, the results have been disastrous for the people of Iowa.  Since this time, people have been systematically denied critical care, essential medical equipment, and have had their services severely reduced or cut altogether.

This year, lawmakers learned the situation will continue to get worse after UnitedHealthcare announced it would be leaving Iowa's managed care program this summer, which means 425,000 Iowans will be faced with another disruption to their health care.

UnitedHealthcare currently manages care for 70% of Iowans on Medicaid, taking on more members when AmeriHealth Caritas, another managed care organization (MCO), left the state in 2017. The departure of UnitedHealthCare leaves 425,000 Iowans facing another disruption in health care because many had just switched to UnitedHealthcare and have already had multiple case workers. This includes almost 237,000 children.

Iowa will only be left with two MCOs, Amerigroup and the newly contracted Iowa Total Care, to manage the Medicaid program. It has yet to be shown that these two MCOs will be able to handle the sudden influx of new members, and Iowa Total Care has not provided members with a list of providers that will be covered under their plan, further increasing the mass confusion.

In addition, other issues and concerns continue to plague Medicaid privatization.  Many lawmakers are concerned the for-profit MCO’s will get another $150.3 million this fiscal year from the Reynolds Administration, including a bonus of $109 million and incentives worth $9.6 million.  The 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.  

It has also been reported that the cost per member has risen by an annual average of 4.4% under managed care, but only increased an average of 1.5% under state management. The Medicaid budget was passed this year, but it did not include any funding for the MCO rate increases, which have yet to be released.

House Democrats are not the only ones worried about the privatization mess. In April this year, the federal government announced plans to investigate private Medicaid management companies, including those in Iowa. They are specifically investigating whether these MCOs are denying services and cutting care to those members they served. Those that called for the investigation directly cited Iowa’s managed care mess as an example of why this in-depth examination was necessary.

To help fix the Medicaid mess, House Democrats proposed several different solutions. However, Republican lawmakers refused to take any of them, and in some cases, wouldn’t even allow the bills to come up for debate. This mess will not fix itself, and until the GOP admits this privatization experiment is a complete failure, Iowa’s most vulnerable citizens will continue to suffer. 

Politicization of Judicial Selection Process Passes Legislature

On the last day of session, Republican lawmakers approved a proposal to injected politics into the selection of Iowa judges. While the plan was opposed by a bi-partisan group of House members, it was still added to one of the final bills.

The proposal allows the Governor to have a majority of the input on the selection of Supreme Court and Appeals Court judges in the state.  Currently, lawyers in the state and the Governor select an equal number of representatives to serve on the State Judicial Nominating Commission.  

The Judicial Branch has one member on the commission.  The commission then narrows a pool of potential judicial nominees and the Governor makes an appointment to the highest courts in the state.  Under the new commission makeup, the Governor will always be able to appoint a majority of the commissioners that recommend potential nominees.  The Governor then also gets the final say on which judge gets appointed.

Under the changes, judges are still required to be retained through regular elections.  Judges in the state must face retention elections after regular intervals while serving.  In these retention elections judges do not have an opponent, but instead must receive a majority of “yes” votes to maintain his or her position as a judge.

Governor Reynolds recently appointed her second selection during her tenure to the Iowa Supreme Court, Supreme Court Justice Christopher McDonald.  Governor Reynolds appointed Justice Susan Christensen to the Iowa Supreme Court in 2018.  The Iowa Supreme Court is composed of seven justices.  

The Iowa Supreme Court is currently composed of five justices that have been appointed by Republican governors and two justices that have been appointed by Democratic governors.

Read More News from the Statehouse

Bill Limiting Local Spending Threatens IPERS
Medical Cannabidiol Expansion Moves Forward
Lawmakers Throw Out 29 Legally Cast Ballots, Change Election Law
School Infrastructure Funding Extended
Children’s Mental Health System Created, Funding Still Unknown  
Republican Lawmakers Show Budget Priorities, Rural Iowans Lose Out
Restoration of Felon Voting Rights Passes House
AARP Legislative Initiative Iowa Care Act Passes Legislature
School Transportation Investments Increased
Additional Help for Beginning Farmers
GOP Lawmakers Strip Powers from Iowa Attorney General
Supporting Iowa’s Veterans
2019 Natural Resources Update
Addressing Changing Transportation Technologies
Whole Grade Sharing in Schools Extended
Legislature Takes First Step Towards Hemp Cultivation

Contact Representative Heather Matson

1009 Grand Ave
Iowa House of Representatives
Des Moines, IA 50319
1802 SW Prairie Trail Parkway
Ankeny, IA 50023
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