After the flurry of committee work last week, this week’s main focus was floor debate. Now in the seventh week, the halfway point of the legislative session is rapidly approaching. While over 40 bills passed the whole Senate this week, a significant amount of work remains for the rest of this session.
This week Governor Kim Reynolds signed Senate File 2164, the transportation equity bill. The bill unanimously passed the Senate, completing a promise we made several years ago to level the playing field for all Iowa students and buy down the transportation cost of every school district to the statewide average. We have long held that a student’s zip code should not determine the funding available for their education. When rural schools have to spend more on transportation costs for students, less money is available to be spent in the classroom. This good legislation, and I’m happy to be see it be signed into law.
One of the bills the Senate passed out this week is Senate File 2272 which establishes a real-time verification system for public assistance programs. This bill is crucial in working to eliminate fraud and waste in our welfare system. Just last year, Iowa was fined $1.8 million by the federal government for overpaying SNAP benefits by $40 million dollars, an overpayment rate that was almost double the national average. Obviously, we want to help those in need, but fraud and waste hurts everyone. I certainly hope the House will take up this legislation this year.
One of the most discussed issues in government policy at both the state and federal level is health care. This week the Senate ran a number of bills designed to improve the access, control the cost, and increase the availability of health care, especially in rural Iowa.
The first major piece of legislation the Iowa Senate debated this week on health care was a bill to limit the non-economic damages awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits. Recently, awards for non-economic damages in Iowa have been higher than ever before. Huge awards for non-economic damages threaten the viability of rural health care in parts of Iowa, because a big award is much easier to manage for a large hospital in Des Moines than for a community hospital in Iowa’s smaller cities. It is important to note people affected by medical injuries are still eligible for all economic loss and any punitive damages for recklessness in the provision of health care. The goal of SF 2338 is to achieve a balance between the need to compensate people who have medical injuries, and the need to keep doctors and health care professionals in rural Iowa.
Senate File 2118 also addresses this issue by allowing physicians in the Rural Physician Loan Repayment Program and similar programs to continue to participate in that program if they refinance or consolidate their student loans. Physicians often have extremely high rates of student debt, and refinancing and consolidating can help ease that burden for young doctors. Iowa has some of the fewest OB/GYN doctors per capita in the nation and these policies can help address that shortage. Additionally, SF 2251 adds OB/GYN to the eligible specialties allowed to receive funding from the Rural Iowa Primary Care Loan Repayment Program. This program helps address critical doctor shortage areas by providing loan repayment incentives for up to five years if an individual agrees to practice in certain rural areas in the state.
Finally, SF 2261 authorizes schools to be acceptable locations for telehealth services. It implements a number of safeguards to ensure quality and confidentiality of the services provided.
Senate Republicans are committed to improving the availability of quality health care all across Iowa and helping control the costs. These bills are a prime example of policies to improve health care without the creation of a new tax or the elimination of choices in health care.