Legislation addressing Iowa opioid epidemic gets bipartisan support

REUTERS/Bryan Woolston/File Photo
REUTERS/Bryan Woolston/File Photo

DES MOINES — In a rare display of bipartisan harmony, the Iowa House on Monday took what many called the first step in addressing an explosion in the abuse of opioids and controlled substances that was responsible for 335 deaths in Iowa over a 12-month period.

House File 2377, approved 98-0, makes many changes to state law, including funding a state-of-the-art prescription monitoring program. The law would require prescribers to register for the monitoring program and use it when prescribing controlled substances. Currently, only 45 percent of prescribers are registered to use the monitoring program. The law also would require pharmacies to report to the monitoring program within one business day in an effort to move toward real-time data submission and decrease doctor shopping.

It also provides immunity from some civil, criminal or professional liability to a person calling 911 to seek help for a drug overdose and for the person experiencing the overdose. It includes an exception for drug dealers and repeat offenders.

“This is a good public health bill,” said Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids. In addition to making Iowa a better place, “this will save lives,” she said.

The debate included several comments by representatives, including floor manager Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, complimenting and giving credit for the legislation to members of the other party.

Without debate, the House also approved another health-related bill, HF 2305, which would expand Iowans’ access to telemedicine.

The bill, also approved 98-0, would require a health insurer to provide the same coverage for covered services whether they are provided in person or by telehealth. An amendment adopted on a voice vote made clear the legislation would apply to mental health services, too.


Rep. John Forbes, D-Des Moines, said the amendment would enhance the bill by allowing more health care professionals to use telehealth in their practices.

Increasing coverage of telehealth, sometimes referred to as telemedicine, would increase access to health care, especially in specialty areas such as psychiatry, according to Commerce Committee Chairman Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines, a sponsor of HF 2305. He thinks numerous services will become available to Iowans regardless of address if insurers provide the same reimbursement whether care is delivered face-to-face or via video conferencing.

Many lawmakers wished the opioid bill went further, according to Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant. However, he said, it gives them something to build on in pursuit of “a fully comprehensive (bill) that really goes after this opioid epidemic.”

For House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, that would include a needle exchange program that could reduce the spread of diseases associated with abusers sharing needles used to inject drugs. However, he said that advocates for a needle exchange want more time to lobby lawmakers.

Heaton called the opioid epidemic “one of the most pressing challenges of our time.”

Although HF 2377 does not cost the state general fund anything, Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, said there could be considerable savings. He said the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics billed the state Medicaid program $7.1 million for surgeries related to endocarditis, which is related to injecting drugs. The savings, he suggested, could be used to treat Iowans with substance abuse problems.

Egg sales

A bill placing a mandate on the sale of eggs in grocery stores generated much more debate before it was approved 81-17.

HF 2408 would require that if grocery stores participate in the Women, Infants and Children program, they must carry an inventory of conventional — white — eggs if they carried conventional eggs before Jan. 1, 2018.

Floor manager Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, who noted that his family eats cage-free eggs, said the requirement is necessary to make sure people on WIC have access to a “high-value staple.”


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Like others, he noted that Iowa is No. 1 in egg production, which creates significant markets for corn and soybean producers.

Opponents objected to the mandate and interference in free markets.

Other action

The House joined the Senate in approving SF 2163 to make permanent the installation of blue and white lights on snowplows clearing state roadways. An Iowa Department of Transportation pilot project to mount $500 lighting units on plows in 12 counties since 2015 proved cost effective. Collisions, which had an average cost of $7,000, decreased from one every 2,800 hours of operation to one every 8,800 hours after the lights were installed, according to Rep. Dave Maxwell, R-Gibson. The installation of lights resulted in $200,000 less in insurance claims stemming from collisions with snow removal equipment last year.

The House voted 98-0 for HF 2417, which would add credit cards as an accepted form of payment for amusement concessions at a fair.

The House voted 67-31 to approve HF 2440 to correct and update the water quality legislation, SF 512, approved earlier in the session. It would change already outdated reporting dates, standardize references, introduce a definition for industry groups eligible for funds and remove a mandate on drainage districts.

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