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The legislative process is in full swing with many sub-committee and full committee meetings every day. Senate File 269 was approved by the Labor and Business Relations Committee this week. This bill raises the minimum wage in Iowa from the current $7.25 to $8.00 on July 1, 2015 and to $8.75 on July 1, 2016. This legislation will attract a lot of attention this year as most states that border Iowa do have a minimum wage above the national rate.
The Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee continues to meet on a regular basis to learn about and to recommend how the state spends taxpayer dollars on the Department of Agriculture (IDALS) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Together, those departments receive only about 0.4% of the total state budget. Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and DNR Director Chuck Gipp continue to do a great job of being stewards of public money.
One example is the $4 million appropriation to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Iowa State. Each year they handle more than 73,000 comprehensive diagnoses, many with same-day results, for livestock and wildlife. This laboratory is recognized as one the premier labs in the world, and the work they do protects the safety and security of our food supply. Another example is the $1.325 million appropriation to the Iowa Nutrient Research Center which is administered by Iowa State, but also includes work done by scientists at the University of Northern Iowa and the University of Iowa. Their work continues to focus on ways to maintain high water quality standards. Those two appropriations arguably offer the best return on investment Iowans can make.
Governor Branstad and the Department of Human Services are proposing to move Medicaid into a managed care system. Known as the Iowa High Quality Health Care Initiative, it allows the state to hire modern health plans to coordinate care and manage spending for Medicaid recipients.
Medicaid is the joint federal and state health insurance program for the poor and disabled. The cost of delivering Medicaid in Iowa has grown 73% since 2003, now costing more than $4.2 billion in the last fiscal year, including $1.5 billion in state taxpayer dollars.
According to DHS Director Chuck Palmer, about 70% of Medicaid beneficiaries nationally have their health care administered by health plans, and modern health plans are better equipped to bear the risk. This would allow the state to continue working to emphasize quality improvement within our health delivery system.
This change would affect most of the 564,000 Iowans covered by the $4.2 billion program. Two to four managed care companies would oversee patientís care. The Branstad administration has predicted that Iowa could save $51 million in the six months starting July 1 by switching to a managed care system. Iowa has already used such companies to oversee parts of its Medicaid program, including care for people with serious mental illness.
The public, health care providers and other stakeholders will weigh in on this proposal in the next few weeks as the legislature considers its response to the Governorís plan.
Weekly legislative forums continue in Senate District 40. On Saturday, February 28 I will be back in Oskaloosa at the 8:30 AM Egg and Issues at Smokey Row. Maybe Iíll see you there.
Senator Ken Rozenboom
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