The Republican-controlled 89th Iowa General Assembly gaveled in at the State Capitol on Monday, January 15 for the 2021 legislative session. The opening of the session began with remarks by House and Senate leaders and the annual Condition of the State address by Governor Kim Reynolds. Leaders from both chambers expressed mutual interest in and focus on improving the state’s tax climate, K-12 education and abortion. The governor’s Condition of the State focused on a number of issues, including broadband connectivity, child care, derecho recovery efforts, tax policy and Iowa’s workforce, among others. Specific to health care, many of the priorities of UnityPoint Health align with the Governor’s remarks and requests of the legislature, such as:
- Recommending the legislature appropriate $450 million ($150 million per year for the next three years) to fully build out statewide access to high-speed broadband;
- Recommending the legislature pass the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) legislation that was introduced in prior legislative session to ensure long-term sustainability of lifesaving services, particularly in Iowa’s rural communities;
- Recommending the legislature appropriate $30 million ($15 million per year for the next two years) in new funding to support mental health services and an additional $200,000 in funding to expand the number of psychiatric residency positions; and
- Stating support for telehealth services, with specific comments on the use of this technology by schools in order to provide mental health services for students.
Additionally, the governor expressed her gratitude for front line health care workers, stating in part:
“And nowhere was the dedication and commitment to others more evident than in our healthcare system. Nurses, doctors, technicians, janitors, pharmacists, EMTs, social workers, and the thousands of direct care workers in our senior living communities: In 2020, you worked some of the longest hours, in the most uncertain conditions. Your actions saved lives. Your spirit inspired us.
And you didn’t just provide medical care. Your patients often couldn’t be with their loved ones, so you also provided them comfort and company. You sat with them when no one else could. You held their hand, facilitated calls to family, and in some cases stood by them while they took their last breath. While many of us were shielded from the worst of the pandemic, you were on the front lines every day.
We cannot sufficiently express our gratitude, but we will try. Please join me in thanking these heroic Iowans.”
To view the full Condition of the State address, please click here. To view the Governor’s budget recommendations, please click here.
Bills of Note
While the legislature is nearing the end of only its third week of the 2021 session, a number of bills with potential impact to the patients and communities served by UnityPoint Health have already emerged. A few key bills of note include the following:
HF 205 (Lohse): This bill would allow the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) to treat a network provider for Medicaid services the same as a community mental health provider. Additionally, the bill would require the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and DHS to review reimbursement rates for outpatient and residential services using cost rates agreed to by IDPH, DHS, and network providers and establishes similar requirements for behavioral health and other Medicaid services. UnityPoint Health supports legislation and policies that create and establish equitable reimbursement rates for both behavioral/mental health and physical health providers.
Certificate of Need
SF 4 (Zaun): Senate President Pro Tem Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) has again introduced legislation that would eliminate the Certificate of Need (CON) requirement for new health care facilities in the State of Iowa.
UnityPoint Health supports the continuation of the CON process as a tested means to ensure that only needed services are developed in Iowa. CON benefits Iowans by ensuring accessible, cost-effective and high-quality care for patients.
Health Care Workforce
HF 5 (Bossman): This bill would expand the Iowa Health Professional Recruitment Program (HPRP) from Des Moines University to other academic and institutions of higher learning as a means to help expand recruitment of physicians and other eligible health care providers to practice in Iowa’s rural communities. HF 5 has passed a subcommittee and will be brought to a full committee for consideration.
UnityPoint Health supports legislation and policies that attract and retain physicians and other eligible health care providers to practice in Iowa’s rural communities.
SF 129 (Cournoyer): This bill would expand the availability of the Rural Primary Care Loan Repayment Program to include obstetrics and gynecology and expands service-commitment-area distance requirements. SF 129 has passed a subcommittee and will be brought to a full committee for consideration.
UnityPoint Health supports legislation and policies that create new or expand current loan repayment and other recruitment and retention programs to support Iowa’s physician and provider community.
HF 89 (Fry) and SF 92 (Zaun): These bills would require telehealth reimbursements be the same as in-person visits. HF 89 has passed a subcommittee and will be brought to a full committee for consideration.
UnityPoint Health supports legislation and policies that recognize the clinical expertise and high-quality services provided by health care physicians and providers to Iowans, and supports equal reimbursement for delivering such services through in-person and telehealth visits.
HF 88 (Fry): Known as the telehealth “audio only” bill, this would require licensing boards to allow qualified health care professionals to use telehealth services delivered through the telephone or other audio-only methods. The bill does not address payment parity. HF 88 has passed a subcommittee and will be brought to a full committee for consideration.
UnityPoint Health is continuing to monitor this bill as additional amendments and changes are introduced to determine if requirements such as ensuring an established relationship between a health care provider and patient or client exists prior to the use of audio-only services, among others, are included.
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.