The following is a legislative update from Rep. Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake –With the first funnel in the rearview mirror, we have narrowed our scope for legislation. We spent a lot of time this week debating common sense bills on the House floor this week that provide additional funding for school’s transportation costs, protect Iowans from credit/debit card skimming, and reduce red tape for small businesses. It was another successful week in the Iowa House.
When talking to Iowans, one of the issues I hear about frequently is the cost of health care and the lack of certain providers in rural parts of the state. I’ve spoken with some folks have had to take out loans just to pay their health insurance premiums that cost over $40,000 this year. Iowans deserve access to high quality health care at an affordable price. This session, we are moving forward with two bills that will help us achieve that goal.
One of these proposals is a bill that allows qualifying organizations to sell health benefit plans, providing Iowans with a lower cost alternative to traditional health insurance. These plans work similar to traditional health insurance, providing necessary coverage, but come at nearly half the cost. Farm Bureau would be able to offer these types of plans to their membership, which is available to all Iowans. Senator Waylon Brown is also working on an additional plan that would allow associations to pool together for health insurance.
Last year, Iowa made national headlines when two of the three statewide health insurance carriers announced that they would no longer be participating in the individual insurance marketplace. This left 72,000 Iowans with just one choice for health insurance, and to make matter worse, premiums would be increasing by 43-56%.
In an effort to stabilize Iowa’s insurance market, our state Insurance Commissioner put together a temporary solution, known as the “Stopgap Measure,” that would have given Iowans an option for health coverage. This plan was required to receive federal approval from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Unfortunately, due to the inflexibility of Obamacare and the Feds, Iowa was forced to withdraw the Stopgap plan.
In my opening day speech to the Iowa House in January, I made it clear that it was time for us as a state to act in response to the Federal Government’s rejection of the Stopgap plan. I asked legislators to look for opportunities this session to provide Iowans with more health options at an affordable price. Health benefit plans are an example of a state-based solution to provide Iowans another option for health coverage.
Another health bill that we are looking at this session is a bill that deals with “telehealth.” This will make Iowans healthier by ensuring more access to essential health care services in rural areas of the state.
Many rural parts of Iowa have limited access to a doctor and other important health services. Faced with these barriers, some Iowans have a hard time getting the care they need due to having to travel long distances. One solution to this problem is the expansion of telehealth services, which would allow an Iowan to speak with, visually see, and be treated by a doctor using audio/ visual technology. Our bill expands insurance coverage so that telehealth care is covered by health insurance, just like health insurance would cover a face to face visit between a patient and their healthcare professional. This will expand access to both physical and mental healthcare services and providers.
We are also continuing to monitor the Medicaid program and are working on legislation to increase access to mental healthcare. These are two topics that many Iowans are interested in addressing this session, so I will I will touch on these subjects in more detail in future newsletters.