Branstad/Reynolds claims on Medicaid "not matching reality"

Real-world data don’t match figures Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds released yesterday in order to demonstrated the alleged “continued success of modernizing our state’s Medicaid program.”

April 1 marked a year since Iowa allowed three private insurance companies to manage care for more than half a million Medicaid recipients. The shift was disruptive for thousands of Iowans as well as for caseworkers and service providers, some of which went out of business. Reimbursement problems and cutbacks to care are still affecting many people, Chelsea Keenan reported in this retrospective on the first year of the policy.

Although privatization was supposedly designed to save money and bring predictability to the state budget, the Branstad administration agreed last fall and again in February to hand over millions more state dollars to the managed-care organizations (MCOs), unlocking some $225 million in extra federal funding for the corporations, which have much higher administrative costs than Iowa’s state-run Medicaid program did.

I enclose below the latest deceptive official statements about the “modernization,” along with a demolition fact-checking job by Democratic State Senator Liz Mathis. I’ve also included independent State Senator David Johnson’s reaction to what he called a “lousy, lousy” press release. While still a member of the Republican caucus during the 2016 legislative session, Johnson worked with Democrats trying to halt Medicaid privatization or at least provide stronger legislative oversight of the program.

The Iowa Hospital Association can’t substantiate the Branstad/Reynolds claims on hospitalization rates, Tony Leys reported yesterday for the Des Moines Register. Excerpts from that story are at the end of this post.

On a related note: thousands of Iowans who follow this issue closely are mourning Rhonda Shouse, who died unexpectedly in late March. I never met Rhonda in person, but we communicated through social media, and I admired her relentless advocacy on behalf of those adversely affected by Medicaid privatization. Keenan marked her passing in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, and Leys did so in the Des Moines Register. May her memory always be for a blessing.

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Iowa Democrats, talk less about ALEC and more about people's lives

Thousands of Iowans will suffer brutal consequences from the two major bills Republican senators approved Monday. House File 295 blocks local governments from raising the minimum wage. Once Governor Terry Branstad signs the bill, thousands of people working in Linn, Johnson, and Wapello counties will get an immediate pay cut. Some 25,000 people in Polk County will be stuck earning $7.25 an hour, instead of getting a raise to $8.75, beginning next week. House File 518 will make it harder for employees to file workers’ compensation claims and will vastly reduce benefits for those who do qualify, especially anyone with a shoulder injury.

Both bills passed on party-line 29-21 votes after Republicans had rejected every effort to mitigate the harm done to working people.

As each Democratic amendment went down during hours of debate on the Senate floor, feelings of sadness, disgust and anger came through in the speeches of some Democrats and independent State Senator David Johnson. Why are you doing this, several asked their GOP colleagues. You don’t have to follow your floor manager, some pleaded. You can reject the “shameful” attempt to target poor people or those affected by life-altering workplace accidents.

Another dismal day in the Iowa legislature provoked an outpouring on social media, where progressive activists have mobilized this year in response to the Republican agenda. A measurable wave of “greater grassroots activism on the political left” is one of the few bright spots in the national landscape. In Iowa too, ordinary people are contacting their state lawmakers in record numbers and showing up to challenge them at district forums.

Watching these discussions unfold, I’ve noticed a reflexive tendency to blame one destructive Iowa GOP bill after another on the Koch brothers or the American Legislative Exchange Council. The more Democrats make the conversation about Koch money or ALEC, the easier it is for Republicans to avoid talking about the real-world consequences of their actions.

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Everything you want to know about Iowa's horrible new collective bargaining law

Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate voted today to dramatically reduce collective bargaining rights for some 180,000 public employees, following approximately 27 hours of debate in the Iowa Senate and fourteen and a half hours of debate in the Iowa House. GOP leaders moved House File 291 and Senate File 213 simultaneously through both chambers in order to speed up the process.

Democrats had offered dozens of amendments to the bills, which were published for the first time on February 7. Instead of allowing full discussion of every amendment, GOP leaders moved to cut off debate at a “time certain” today. That maneuver had never been used in the Iowa Senate and has been invoked only rarely in the Iowa House–including to end debate on the collective bargaining bill Republicans passed in March 2011. Debate ended in the Iowa House at noon, after which the majority quickly voted down all the remaining amendments with no discussion. Six Republicans joined all 41 Democrats to vote against the bill on final passage. Two of them, Tom Moore and Dave Heaton, are former teachers. Clel Baudler is a retired state trooper. Andy McKean and Shannon Lundgren were just elected from eastern Iowa swing districts, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. McKean is also very familiar with Chapter 20 as a former county supervisor and longtime state lawmaker. I don’t know why Mary Ann Hanusa opposed the bill. UPDATE: Hanusa did not respond to my request for comment, but I learned from another source that she is also a former teacher who works in education administration.

Senators debated all night long Wednesday into Thursday morning, with Republicans voting down every Democratic amendment. Independent State Senator David Johnson voted with Democrats on all the amendments and joined them in giving several passionate speeches. Few Republicans in either chamber chose to speak in favor of the bills, aside from Senate Labor Committee Chair Jason Schultz, House Labor Committee Chair Dave Deyoe, and State Representative Steven Holt, who floor-managed the bill and distinguished himself as the legislature’s least convincing liar. The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski summarized some of the important Democratic amendments. I didn’t stay up to watch the whole debate, so would welcome examples of some of the most absurd Republican comments, like State Senator Mark Chelgren accusing Democrats of “stalling” while his party had shown an “incredible amount of patience.” Nothing says “patient” like making sweeping changes to a 43-year-old law, affecting 180,000 Iowans, after only nine days in the legislature.

Senate leaders ended debate at 2 pm Thursday, after which Republicans voted down the remaining Democratic amendments, then substituted the text of the House bill for the Senate bill, to get the legislation to Governor Terry Branstad more quickly. Branstad’s chief of staff, Michael Bousselot, spent the final hours of debate in the Senate chamber. House File 291 eventually passed on a 29-21 Senate vote.

Iowa’s largest public-sector union, AFSCME Iowa Council 61, plans to file a lawsuit claiming the new law is unconstitutional, presumably because of the way it grants more bargaining rights to “public safety” workers than to others, many of whom do dangerous jobs. Video from a February 16 press conference by labor leaders is available here.

I enclose below statements about the bill by legislative leaders from both parties, as well as documents prepared by Iowa House Democratic and Republican staff, which discuss in more detail how House File 291 will affect collective bargaining rights for different types of public employees. Regarding substantive impacts, I also recommend the recent guest posts here by state employee Ruth Thompson, University of Northern Iowa Professor Chris Martin, and attorney James Larew, who predicted that today’s action “will be remembered as the most destructive blow to our ability to govern ourselves fairly and efficiently in nearly half a century.”

GOP spin notwithstanding, collective bargaining “reform” in Iowa was designed primarily with political goals in mind, like similar measures in other states. Republicans know that crippling public sector unions will make it harder for Democrats to win elections.

Although Republicans repeatedly claimed during the House and Senate debates that their bill would help local governments, Chapter 20 has worked so well that more than 140 school districts rushed to sign new contracts with the teachers union before the legislature acted. Boards of supervisors in several large counties passed resolutions condemning the proposal. Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson’s case against the bill is convincing.

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Weekend open thread: Packed Iowa legislative forums

All over Iowa this year, record numbers of citizens have been turning out for legislative forums. Controversies over education spending and Planned Parenthood funding brought out many activists earlier in the legislative session. This weekend, the overwhelming majority of attendees wanted to talk about the Republican bill to eviscerate Chapter 20, Iowa’s law that has governed collective bargaining for public employees since 1974.

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IA-Gov: Democrat Jon Neiderbach launching campaign soon

Jon Neiderbach, the 2014 Democratic candidate for state auditor, plans to announce a campaign for governor by the end of the week, he confirmed to Bleeding Heartland. A New York native who has lived in Iowa since attending Grinnell College during the 1970s, Neiderbach has in-depth knowledge of state government, having worked for the Legislative Fiscal Bureau and later in the Iowa Department of Human Services. He also served a term on the Des Moines School Board and has been an attorney in private practice since 2012. He campaigned for a few months in Iowa House district 43 during the last election cycle but withdrew from that race before the filing period.

Last year, Neiderbach was an active supporter of Bernie Sanders for president, and he will need support from that part of the Democratic base in a primary likely to include better-funded candidates. His new Twitter handle is @Neiderbach4Gov, and he’s on Facebook here. A campaign website will launch soon. I enclose below a short bio released during Neiderbach’s 2014 race for state auditor.

The field of Democratic challengers to future Governor Kim Reynolds will expand further. Rich Leopold is already campaigning around the state, and former Iowa Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire is expected to make her candidacy official within a month or two. (However, when I asked McGuire at the recent State Central Committee meeting when she was going to announce, the mother of seven grown children answered with a joke: “Oh, do I look pregnant?”)

The rumor mill sees State Representative Todd Prichard as a likely gubernatorial candidate too.

State Senator Liz Mathis told a Democratic gathering in Des Moines this month that she thought about running for governor in 2018, “but I don’t believe it’s in the cards for me.” I’ve talked to several Democrats who hope she will reconsider, including AFSCME President Danny Homan. (He is not in McGuire’s fan club.) Terry Branstad ruled out running for governor in May 2009 but changed his mind a few months later.

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Who's who in the Iowa Senate for 2017

The Iowa legislature’s 2017 session begins today with minor adjustments to business in the state House but massive changes in the Senate. After ten years of Democratic control, the last six with a one-seat majority, the upper chamber now contains 29 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and one independent (former Republican David Johnson).

I enclose below details on the Iowa Senate majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing Senate committees. Click here to find the same information from the 2016 legislative session.

Just six senators are women (five Democrats and a Republican), down from ten women serving in the chamber in 2013 and 2014 and seven during the past two years. All current senators are white. To my knowledge, the only African-American ever to serve in the Iowa Senate was Tom Mann, elected to two terms during the 1980s. No Latino has ever served in the Iowa legislature; in 2014, Nathan Blake fell 18 votes short of becoming the first to join the Senate. No Asian-American has served in the state Senate since Swati Dandekar resigned in 2011.

As a group, the members of the new majority caucus have much less legislative experience than do their Democratic counterparts. As detailed below, only three of the 29 Senate Republicans have served ten or more years in the Iowa legislature, compared to thirteen of the 20 Democrats.

Some non-political trivia: the 50 Iowa senators include two with the surname Johnson, four Marks, three Bills, and two men each named Richard (Rich and Rick), Robert (a Rob and a Bob), Dan, Tim, Tom, Jeff, and Charles (one goes by Chaz).

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