I Hope This Finds You Well: Our Health Care System is at Risk

Progressive advocate Ruth Thompson warns how much Iowans have to lose if “Obamacare” is repealed. -promoted by desmoinesdem

With the new Administration and Republican led congress, The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is in peril. Republican leadership plans to use the Budget Reconciliation process to repeal at least parts of the ACA. They are expected to hold a vote in January that may include language to do just that. If this doesn’t happen in January, it will almost certainly happen by September, 2017.

The nonpartisan Urban Institute estimates that the partial repeal of the ACA would cause almost 70 million people Americans to lose health insurance. In 2016, 55,089 Iowans enrolled in health insurance coverage for 2016. US Census data show that the uninsured rate in Iowa in 2015 was 5 percent as compared to 9.3 percent in 2010.

In 2016, of the Iowans who signed up through the Health Care marketplace, 85 percent of them were eligible for an average tax credit of $303 per month and 70 percent could obtain coverage for $100 or less.

As to the impact to employers, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that employer-sponsored health plans grew just 3.4 percent in 2016, extending a period of unusually slow growth since 2010. The White House Council of Economic Advisers reports that the average family premium in Iowa was $3,500 lower in 2016 than they would be if premiums had grown at the same rate as the pre-ACA decade.

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ISU stonewalls, Leath plays the victim ahead of airplane use audit

Any day now, the internal auditor for the Iowa Board of Regents may complete his review of all plane trips on Iowa State University’s Flight Service since President Steven Leath came to ISU nearly five years ago.

Although Leath has promised to be “as open and transparent as possible” regarding his airplane use, ISU officials have steadfastly refused to clarify certain details about specific flights or university practices. Reporters probing facts not found on the “frequently asked questions” page keep getting the same runaround: ISU cannot comment, so as not to “jeopardize the integrity of the audit.”

ISU has also slow-walked some information requests related to the airplane controversy. Ten days since the university’s Public Records Office received my payment for one set of records, I’m still waiting for documents that were supposed to take only 3.5 hours to compile. The delay will prevent me from reporting on a potentially newsworthy angle before Todd Stewart sends his findings to the Board of Regents. Depending on when the material arrives, how long it takes to review it, and whether ISU answers follow-up questions promptly, I may not be able to publish before board members convene a special meeting to discuss the internal audit.

Leath complained last week about supposedly “vicious personal attacks” in media coverage of the airplane controversy. It’s not the first time he has claimed to endure “unfair” treatment by writers supposedly engaged in “distortions” and asking “inappropriate” questions.

In reality, “planegate” reporting has addressed Leath’s conduct and use of university resources, not his personal qualities.

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100 weeks to 2018 Elections

Looking forward to later installments in this series. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Yesterday marked 100 weeks until the 2018 midterm elections. It seems like a long time from now, but it is only one number greater than the number of county Democratic organizations that need some serious rebuilding if we are ever to put a Democrat in Terrace Hill, Democrats in control of the legislature and in Iowa’s congressional delegation. The same number of weeks as there are members in the Iowa House of Representatives.

Starting next Tuesday, and ending at the 2018 elections, I am going to try to post a diary each week talking about the demographics and political statistics of each of Iowa’s 99 counties. Starting with the smallest county (Adams) in terms of population, to the largest (Polk). A bit of trivia: Polk County is 123 times the size of Adams County.

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Branstad going to China: Let the IA-Gov speculation commence

Jennifer Jacobs reported for Bloomberg last night that Governor Terry Branstad has accepted President-elect Donald Trump’s offer to become the next U.S. ambassador to China. Jacobs cited three unnamed sources, and an unnamed member of Trump’s transition team confirmed the news to the Washington Post this morning. I expect Trump to make the official announcement during his Thursday “thank you” rally in downtown Des Moines. (By the way, many central Iowa Democrats as well as Republicans received a robocall invitation to that rally, featuring Donald Trump, Jr.)

I wish Branstad well in his new adventure. He’ll have a lot to contend with: the president-elect’s recent overture to Taiwan was destabilizing; Trump’s threats to punish China for supposedly unfair trade and currency practices could spark a trade war; and horrific air pollution has made Beijing “almost uninhabitable.”

Kim Reynolds is the fifth woman to hold the office of Iowa lieutenant governor and will soon become the first woman governor in our state’s history. Branstad has been saying for years he wanted her to succeed him, and many Democrats expected him to step down before the end of his sixth term, to give her the advantages of incumbency going into the 2018 campaign. The domain KimReynoldsforgovernor.com has been registered since 2012, Mark Langgin pointed out today.

Reynolds will select the next lieutenant governor, and she may use that power to neutralize a potential rival, such as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. (Why Northey would agree to that arrangement is a mystery to me.) I don’t expect Reynolds to clear the field for the 2018 Republican primary, but as governor, she will be able to raise more money and possibly deter some ambitious people. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett has been laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial campaign for years. I don’t know how many major donors would back him now that Reynolds will be the incumbent, though. Running a credible campaign against her would require millions of dollars.

Many Democrats were delighted to read this morning that Representative Steve King told The Hill’s Scott Wong he is thinking about running for governor himself. I suspect this will play out like the early months of 2013, when King attracted a lot of attention by saying he might run for U.S. Senate. I never believed then and don’t believe now that King will run for higher office. However, two recent developments may have changed the equation for him.

First, Iowa’s sharp turn to the right this November may have convinced King he has a chance to win a statewide election, which didn’t appear to be the case a few years ago. Second, he and Branstad are not on good terms. King was a leading surrogate for presidential candidate Ted Cruz, whom Branstad attacked shortly before the Iowa caucuses. Reynolds and many other prominent Iowa Republicans endorsed King before this year’s GOP primary in the fourth Congressional district, but Branstad didn’t join them. Adding to the insult, soon after King defeated State Senator Rick Bertrand in that primary, the governor’s son Eric Branstad hired some of Bertrand’s former staffer to work on Trump’s campaign.

Any thoughts about Branstad’s prospects in China or the 2018 campaign are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: The Des Moines rumor mill sees State Representative Peter Cownie as a likely lieutenant governor choice for Reynolds. Further updates are after the jump.

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We Can Do Better.

Guest Post by Derek Eadon, Candidate for Iowa Democratic Party Chair

I have recently announced that I am seeking the position of Iowa Democratic Party Chair. The past few weeks have been filled with hundreds of conversations on what went wrong in 2016 and what we need to do moving forward. I think it is a good thing that we are having these conversations. The problems we saw this cycle were not unique to this election, many of them were years in the making. I have felt the same frustrations that many people are sharing about how our party has operated the last two cycles. And even though sometimes the conversations that have been had since November 8 are uncomfortable, and although we know more conversations will be coming that force us to self-reflect, it is important we have this discussion. We can do better.

Tactics, message, candidates, and operations can always be improved. There are great ideas being discussed and some past best practices we have chosen to ignore. There is one factor that will be harder to change, and it is one that we cannot lump in with the others: our party is not accessible enough to the people that we need the most.

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Energy centers got their money from the Iowa Utilities Board this year

During the first week of December 2015, an unexpected political scandal went out with a whimper as the Iowa Energy Center and the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research finally received the remittances the Iowa Utilities Board had collected on their behalf from gas and electric utility companies. For many years, the board had transferred those funds without incident, as stipulated by state law. But in her first year as Iowa Utilities Board chair, Geri Huser took the “unusual, perhaps illegal, step of withholding funding […].”

Huser’s power play was aimed at the Iowa Energy Center affiliated with Iowa State University. (Its leaders denied her unsupported claim that they had refused to provide sufficient financial information to the board.) Because funds for both centers are calculated and released at the same time, the unprecedented board action also delayed resources for the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa. Huser backed down a week after Ryan Foley of the Associated Press exposed the controversy to a wider audience.

Having heard nothing about the energy centers’ funding lately, I reached out this week to Iowa Utilities Board communications director Don Tormey. He sent documents showing that in accordance with the usual formula for splitting the remittances, the board disbursed $4,123,150.49 to the Iowa Energy Center and $727,614.79 to the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research. The board sent warrants (paper checks) using regular mail, as had happened in 2015 for reasons I still don’t understand. Before last year, the board typically transmitted those funds via wire transfer.

Communications staff at the state universities confirmed that the energy centers received checks in the mail last month for $4,123,150.49 and $727,614.79, respectively. Those totals comprise the remittances from utility companies but not the interest accrued on those funds. John McCarroll of Iowa State University noted, “In the letter with the check, IUB said they will be forward[ing] the interest payment in June 2017 as they close out the fiscal year. This is how they handled the interest in 2016.”

The board has faced criticism on other fronts this year after approving the Dakota Access (Bakken) pipeline and allowing its construction to commence this summer, when Dakota Access did not have all applicable federal permits. Pending lawsuits are challenging the board’s authority to use eminent domain for the pipeline, saying a 2006 Iowa law does not allow a company that isn’t a utility to condemn farmland. It would have been foolish for Huser to stir up more trouble by flexing her muscles at the energy centers’ expense again. Also possibly relevant: former Iowa Energy Center executive director Mark Petri, with whom Huser had tangled, left Ames this summer to take a new job as director of the Critical Infrastructure Resilience Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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