Iowa Catholic Conference Newsletter, April 7, 2013

To: Iowa Catholic Conference Legislative Network

Tomorrow is the last day to submit comments to the federal Health and Human Services Department on its latest "proposed rule" mandating contraceptive and abortifacient coverage in health care. The best way to send your comments is to use the sample message at www.nchla.org. For a special fact sheet on the new proposed rule, see: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience....

There was some great news last week for low-income students who want to attend nonpublic schools in Iowa. House Study Bill 225 passed out of House Ways and Means unanimously by a vote of 25 to 0. The bill increases the tax credits that help raise money for scholarships. Thanks to Rep. Tom Sands (R-Wapello) for introducing the bill. Here’s a link to the committee, all of whom voted for the bill: www.legis.iowa.gov/Schedules/committee.aspx?GA=85&CID=31.

The new number of the bill is House File 625. It increases the amount of tax credits for School Tuition Organizations from $8.75 million statewide to $12 million. There’s still time to send in a message to your member of the Iowa House in support. Go to www.iowacatholicconference.org and click on “Take Action.” The bill is scheduled to be debated on the floor of the Iowa House early this week.

HEALTH CARE FOR LOW-INCOME IOWANS

For decades, the Catholic bishops of the United States have consistently insisted that access to decent health care is a basic safeguard of human life, and an affirmation of human dignity from conception until natural death. Specifically, health care legislation should:

1) ensure access to quality, affordable, life giving health care for all;

2) retain longstanding requirements that federal funds not be used for elective abortions or plans that include them, and effectively protects conscience rights; and

3) protect the access to health care that immigrants currently have and remove current barriers to access.

A big issue remaining for this year’s session is how best to expand health care for low-income Iowans.

Currently Medicaid is only open to very low-income adults with dependents or a disability. The Catholic Conference has supported expanding Medicaid as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act to include low-income Iowans whose income is less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. For those between 138 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, “affordability” tax credits will help families purchase insurance coverage through a Health Insurance Exchange (marketplace). 

The federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost for the expansion population (rather than the usual 60 percent federal/40 percent state for Medicaid) and then ratchet that down to 90 percent.

This proposal was found in Senate File 296, which has passed the Iowa Senate. It is estimated that the Medicaid expansion would cover an additional 150,000 uninsured Iowans.

Because of concerns about cost and effectiveness, the governor has not supported the expansion of Medicaid in this way. The governor’s alternative “Healthy Iowa” plan was introduced in the Iowa House late last week as House Study Bill 232. I will be studying the bill during the next week as it has many provisions, but here are some initial observations after reading the bill:

  • House Study Bill 232 provides health care for low-income Iowans below 100 percent of the federal poverty level (about $11,500 for a single person). This is estimated to cover about 90,000 people.
  • For those above 50 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), the plan will require monthly contributions and co-pays to participate. The monthly fee may be waived or refunded if members complete health assessments and receive preventive services specific for the plan. Recipients must be citizens. (Current Medicaid recipients must be citizens or legal residents who have been present for several years.)
  • Those who make between 100 and 400 percent of the FPL would receive tax credits to purchase health insurance through the new federal exchange (marketplace).
  • HSB 232 specifically encourages personal responsibility for one’s health and not using the emergency room for non-emergencies if you have another provider.

Just looking at the numbers, the Healthy Iowa plan has the potential of limiting access compared to expanding Medicaid. There is some question if all hospitals will be able to participate as providers. It also seems likely that House Study Bill 232 will increase the state and county budgets compared to the “Medicaid expansion” because of a decreased federal match rate.

A further complication may be that federal law prohibits monthly premiums for Medicaid recipients who make less than 150 percent of FPL. The Healthy Iowans plan will require a waiver from the federal Health and Human Services Department and there is no guarantee it will be granted.

The governor’s bill is an important step in the discussion between the chambers. As we have discussed over the past few months, there are significant differences of opinion on the health care issue in the legislature. Since current programs are expiring, action by the state legislature is critical to make sure that as many people as possible have access to health insurance.

We continue to support expanding Medicaid while encouraging improvements in the governor’s plan found in HSB 232. You can use our system at www.capwiz.com/iowanasccd to send a message to your legislator. There should also be a public hearing on the bill soon.

Finally, we’ve been working to exclude elective abortion from insurance plans in the new health care exchange. In that way we can avoid subsidizing plans that cover elective abortion with taxpayer dollars. About 20 states have done this. When and if legislation in this area starts to move, you’ll be among the first to know.

The Senate and House have convened a conference committee to come up with a compromise on their competing education reform plans. The bills would increase beginning teacher's pay and either mandate or make voluntary a new career pathway program for public school teachers. The Senate version also includes more funding for public schools than the House’s bill. The House includes a provision to allow for a separate accreditation process for nonpublic schools.

Two bills we supported did not make it past a legislative deadline last week: Senate File 399, a bill to restrict the shackling of pregnant inmates, and Senate File 404, which would have increased the amount of funding for "limited English proficient" learners in public schools.

A bill to increase the earned income tax credit for working families, Senate File 422, is still alive in the Iowa House but it isn’t moving.

REMARKS ON OVER-THE-COUNTER SALE OF CONTRACEPTIVES TO MINORS

Here are comments from Deirdre McQuade, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro Life Activities regarding a judge’s decision to lift age limits on purchase of over-the-counter emergency contraceptives.

“A federal district judge in New York has ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift all age limits on over-the-counter access to the so-called “emergency contraceptive” drug Plan B and its generic versions. Plan B is a large dose of a powerful hormonal drug (levonorgestrel) that is available only by prescription when used in smaller doses for contraception.  The court has acted irresponsibly by making this powerful drug available without a prescription to minor children.

“Plan B does not prevent or treat any disease, but makes young adolescent girls more available to sexual predators. The court’s action undermines parents’ ability to protect their daughters from such exploitation and from the adverse effects of the drug itself.

“Many studies have shown that wider access to “emergency contraception” among young people does not reduce pregnancy or abortion rates, but can contribute to higher rates of sexually transmitted disease. No public health consideration justifies the unregulated distribution of such drugs to children. This ruling should be appealed and overturned.”

AND FINALLY,

The Justice for Immigrants campaign of the U.S. Catholic bishops is asking us to thank U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) for his support of immigration reform.  You can call Senator Rubio's office at (202) 224-3041 or send him an email at www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email-senator-rubio?p=Contact to thank him for his work and encourage him to continue with his immigration reform efforts.

Tom Chapman

Executive Director

Iowa Catholic Conference

 

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