Government

Iowa Senate approves health plan option

Associations could pool for low-cost alternative

This rendering shows the new Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Public Health and Child and Youth Development Services building being built at 1019 Seventh St. SE in Cedar Rapids, using a lease-purchase agreement. The Iowa Senate on Tuesday passed legislation requiring public bodies — cities, counties and state government, including the Board of Regents — to go through a competitive bidding process before awarding contracts for public projects, including lease-purchase arrangements. (OPN Architects)
This rendering shows the new Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Public Health and Child and Youth Development Services building being built at 1019 Seventh St. SE in Cedar Rapids, using a lease-purchase agreement. The Iowa Senate on Tuesday passed legislation requiring public bodies — cities, counties and state government, including the Board of Regents — to go through a competitive bidding process before awarding contracts for public projects, including lease-purchase arrangements. (OPN Architects)

DES MOINES — Legislation that will allow multiple small businesses and associations to offer health coverage plans — which don’t comply with federal Affordable Care Act rules — for Iowans who can’t get affordable individual health insurance is on its way to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk for her expected signature.

Senators voted 37-11 Tuesday to approve bills that will allow the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to partner with Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield to offer an association health plan to qualifying participants. Also, multiple small businesses will be able to band together to provide health coverage for their employees under plans that also would not be regulated by the state insurance commissioner or subject to ACA rules and regulations.

“This bill is about getting nearly 30,000 people on a plan where they have some coverage to take care of health care,” said Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, who served as floor manager for Senate File 2349.

The mash-up of two separate pieces of legislation — Senate File 2349 and House File 2364 — was approved by 27 Republicans, one independent and nine Democrats, with 11 Democrats opposed.

The bill cleared the Iowa House, 69-30, earlier this month.

The legislation — called “unique” by Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo — would create “a type of multiple-employer welfare arrangement” that would allow small businesses to associate for the purpose of offering health coverage to employees.

Backers noted the coverage would not be insurance but would function similar to insurance for Iowans looking for affordable plans to protect against major health issues.

“This is not insurance. This is an opportunity for Iowans to get some sort of coverage,” Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines said. “It is a health benefit that Iowans will give them the coverage that they may need,”

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The legislation would allow insurers to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions, limit coverage by not paying for maternity care, for example, and set lifetime caps for benefits.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, questioned whether the state should potentially pay up to $2 million to implement the legislation and whether there was adequate data collection and reporting to account for the funding and the success of the program.

“Iowa’s individual insurance market has collapsed because of Obamacare,” Reynolds’ spokeswoman Brenna Smith said. “There are farmers and small business owners across Iowa who can’t afford insurance. Gov. Reynolds urged Congress to fix it last year, but Congress failed to deliver.

“Gov. Reynolds isn’t waiting any longer. In her Condition of the State address, Gov. Reynolds called on the Legislature to do everything it could to make health insurance affordable for Iowa families, farmers and small business owners. This bill does that, and Gov. Reynolds is eager to sign it,” Smith added.

lease-purchase

Also Tuesday, the Senate voted 27-20 to approve a bill crafted in response to Linn County supervisors’ use of a lease-purchase agreement, rather than a traditional competitive-bidding process to build a public health building.

House File 2253 would require public bodies — cities, counties and state government, including the Board of Regents — to go through a competitive bidding process before awarding contracts for public projects, including lease-purchase arrangements.

The bill surfaced after the Linn supervisors chose not to use competitive bids before awarding a contract for construction of a public health and youth development services building at a cost not to exceed $31.1 million.

“This is a good bill that protects the taxpayers of Iowa,” said Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, who offered an amendment that requires the measure to return to the Iowa House to consider the change.

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If the bill gets final legislative approval and is signed by the governor, it won’t affect the Linn County project because supervisors have awarded a contract for the building.

MORE WINE, BEER

In other action, Iowans would be allowed to legally bring beer and wine and larger amounts of liquor across state lines under a bill approved on a 47-1 vote.

Currently, Iowans are allowed to import one bottle of liquor from another state or up to four bottles from outside the country, but they are prohibited from bringing any beer or wine across the state line for personal consumption.

Under Senate File 2347, which now goes to the governor, Iowans would be allowed to import up to two cases of beer and 12 bottles of wine a month without running afoul of the state’s “bootlegging” prohibition. State law was revised to make first-offense criminal penalty for “bootlegging” a simple misdemeanor and a follow-up violation a serious misdemeanor.

BOILER INSPECTION

The bill that touched off the most controversy among senators Tuesday was a measure designed to eliminate an estimated 7,600 certifications and 1,400 boiler and unfired steam pressure vessel inspections in buildings with public use or access, such as rental structures and small businesses.

House File 2297, which was opposed by several contractor, labor and business groups, was portrayed by proponents as a common-sense change to a “make-work” inspection program, Critics warned that lax regulation in this area could prove deadly for Iowans exposed to faulty equipment.

“I think this is the wrong move,” said Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, who had 45 years of experience in the field.

“This is an irresponsible bill,” he said. “We know this is going to cause problems. I would just think that a ‘yes’ vote on this bill eventually is going to weigh very heavily on your conscience because somebody’s going to get killed because of this. This isn’t an ‘if,’ it’s a ‘when,’ and somebody’s going to pay the price.”

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However, Sen. Waylon Brown, R-St. Ansgar, the bill’s floor manager, said the proposed changes are similar to regulations and inspection requirements currently in effect in 36 other states.

“We are not blazing new ground with this piece of legislation,” Brown said. “We’re not seeing a rash of explosions or hazards in these other 36 states. So I feel that this is safe. This is bringing us up to the standards that the majority of our country is currently using.”

The bill, which passed 26-21, returns to the House for consideration of a Senate amendment that changed the bill.

assessments

The Senate voted 39-8 to change the way telecommunications and telephone companies are assessed property taxes, by going from a centralized system to one where local assessments made by counties are phased in over a four-year period.

Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, said Senate File 2388 was intended to modernize an outdated system, given the advancements in communications.

Critics said it would have a negative impact of about $30 million for counties and should mandate the companies reinvest the savings by expanding broadband access.

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