Child Care Task Force
The state’s recently-formed Child Care Task Force has begun its work to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the child care shortage and barriers to child care in Iowa. Established in March 2021 by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, the 17-member task force is hosting the first in a series of virtual town hall meetings to hear from child care providers and parents. In March, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said of the task force, “When we remove the obstacles to high-quality, affordable child care, our families can nurture their kids while maintaining maximum freedom to enter and remain in the workforce.”
The formation of the task force was brought forward by the final recommendations of the Governor’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which was formed in June 2020 to assess the impact of COVID-19 on Iowa’s communities and businesses.
As one of the largest health care providers and employers in Iowa, UnityPoint Health supports strategies and policies that address the child care shortage, expand early learning opportunities for children, and provide affordable child care options for Iowa’s workforce.
Counties Decline COVID-19 Vaccine Doses
The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) this week confirmed that 80 of Iowa’s 99 counties declined all or part of their most recent vaccine allocations, due in large part to declining numbers of individuals seeking the COVID-19 vaccine. During an April 21 press conference, Governor Reynolds indicated that the IDPH is working to better understand vaccine hesitancy in the state encouraged Iowans to get vaccinated. As of April 28, approximately 42 percent of Iowans (338,233) have received at least one dose of the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine and approximately 32 percent (1,021,095) of the state’s population is fully vaccinated by a one- or two-dose vaccine. For more information, please visit the State of Iowa Coronavirus websites, coronavirus.iowa.gov and vaccinate.iowa.gov.
Iowa General Assembly Continues, Will Convene Beyond April 30
As the end of April approaches and a number of policy and budget bills are still pending in the Iowa General Assembly, state lawmakers will continue to convene at the Capitol in May – beyond the April 30 date when per diem expenses end for the 150-member legislature.
Key Bills of Note to UnityPoint Health
On April 28, Governor Reynolds signed Iowa House File 848 into law. Passed unanimously by the Iowa House and Senate, the bill will soon award grants through the Empower Rural Iowa Broadband Grant Program to internet companies and providers that expand broadband in the state. Specific to funding, during the bill signing the governor announced that lawmakers have agreed to provide $100 million for the first year of the program and are reviewing the state’s ability to utilize federal stimulus dollars to provide additional funding. Governor Reynolds proposed an annual investment for $150 million for three years as part of her 2021 State Priorities.
UnityPoint Health supports Iowa House File 848 and strategies to increase broadband access to Iowans. UnityPoint Health senior vice president and chief information officer, Laura Smith (photo, left), and director of government & external affairs, Ashley Thompson (photo, right), were both recently featured by the Greater Des Moines Partnership and Business Record Iowa, respectively, on statewide broadband policy efforts.
- Watch: Laura Smith in the Greater Des Moines Partnership Policy Issue Forum on Broadband, April 20, 2021.
- Read: Ashley Thompson in “Bridging Iowa’s Digital Divide,” Business Record Iowa, April 2021 Cover Story. (Note: Article begins on page 7.)
Health and Human Services (HHS) Budget Bills; Behavioral Health Funding and Telehealth Parity to Drive Negotiations
State budgets continue to dominate much of the conversations at the Capitol. This month, the Iowa House of Representatives and Senate released their initial versions of the Health and Human Services (HHS) budget for the 2022 State Fiscal Year (FY), which begins July 1, 2021 and ends June 30, 2022. Generally the single largest budget for the State of Iowa, the HHS budget funds several state departments and programs, including the state’s Veterans Home and the Iowa Departments on Aging (IDA), Human Services (DHS), Public Health (IDPH) and Veterans Affairs (IDVA). Given that the HHS budget funds programs like Medicaid, hawk-I (the Children’s Health Insurance Program for Iowa) and numerous programs and services for Iowans with behavioral, intellectual and physical health care needs, UnityPoint Health follows this budget closely and advocates for funding and services to meet the needs of patients and communities.
The Senate version of the HHS bill proposes $2.085 billion for FY 2022, while the House version proposes $2.048 billion. While many budget items are close to or align between the two versions, some key differences of note that have led to ongoing negotiations between the chambers include:
- The House version contains language from Iowa House File 294, the telehealth payment parity for behavioral health services bill that was passed by the Iowa House (on a vote of 95-1) but has not advanced in the Senate. House leadership has continued to reiterate the importance of telehealth parity as a means of addressing the state’s mental health crisis and the need for additional avenues to access health care. UnityPoint Health applauds the Iowa House for their commitment to telehealth parity and continues to advocate for the Senate to pass this important legislation that will ensure access to vital health care services for Iowans.
- The Senate version contains changes to how the state’s mental health care system would be funded, from county property taxes that fund the state’s 14 Mental Health and Disability Services (MHDS) regions to a state-funded program. UnityPoint Health appreciates the Iowa Senate’s proposal to address funding needs for the state’s behavioral health system. UnityPoint Health continues to support the creation of an adequate, sustainable funding mechanism for Iowa’s adult and children’s behavioral health systems. Given the complexities in the funding of these systems, thoughtful consideration of potential implications is encouraged.
The House and Senate have continued to advance the bills through their respective chambers and are expected to continue negotiations over the coming days.
Emergency Medical Services (EMS)
As shared in previous Iowa Updates, the House has passed legislation that would address local-decision making processes by which EMS services can receive funding for providing life-saving care to Iowans. UnityPoint Health, fellow health systems and the Iowa Hospital Association continue to partner with House leadership and members of the Senate to reach an agreement on legislation. Unlike law enforcement and fire protection, EMS does not receive recognition and financial support as an “essential service.” As one of the largest providers of life-saving EMS services in Iowa, UnityPoint Health recognizes its importance to patients and communities and strongly encourages passage of legislation during the 2021 legislative session.
For more information on State of Iowa advocacy, legislative, policy and regulatory issues of impact to UnityPoint Health, please contact Ashley Thompson, director of government & external affairs for UnityPoint Health.