Worst drought in 30-plus years

Dear friends,

First off I want to wish everyone Happy Holidays, as well a prosperous New Year. I also want to remind you that the legislative session will be starting January 8th. I look forward to seeing a lot of visitors from House District 82 at the Statehouse.


Southeast Iowa drought conditions

Parts of our area experienced the worst drought this summer since 1983. The farmers in our area started feeding hay to their cow/calf herds in June because of the drought. They continued to feed hay through the summer and into the fall. Hay is now being purchased at prices three times higher than last spring. As a result, herds are now being reduced in size.

Davis County was given one month of federal assistance to cow/calf producers through the Farm Services Agency. Surrounding counties have received three months of assistance. I?ve learned that the collection of rain data from counties is not uniform. Davis County depended on one rain gauge located in Bloomfield. This one measurement at one site was used to determine the precipitation for an entire county for an entire summer. For lack of a better word or term, this is a very poor way to determine whether our hard working family farmers can survive the negative impact in the worst drought in our area since 1983. In light of these facts, I am formally requesting an appeal on the decision to limit Davis County to one month of drought assistance.


Legislature forced to make budget cuts again

After Iowa?s nonpartisan budget experts met again this week, Iowa lawmakers will be forced to make another round of budget cuts like last session in addition to paying back $144 million in debt borrowed by the Governor and GOP last year. The latest round of budget cuts will be the fourth time the state has had to make budget adjustments in the last 12 months.

At the December Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) meeting, the state?s budget experts didn?t change their revenue estimate for fiscal year 2018. The budget estimate was downgraded earlier this year to $7.237 billion, which is $127 million lower than they set in March. The change means the Legislature will need to make a $35 million budget adjustment to the existing fiscal year 2018 budget just to get to keep the state budget balanced.

The Legislature could make a larger adjustment if they wanted to account for the possibility that more revenue will be needed once the books close on June 30 in case the accruals don?t result in a revenue growth of $72 million, as they did for fiscal year 2017.


FY 2019 revenue growth

The Revenue Estimating Conference?s predictions for fiscal year 2019 show growth of 4 percent compared to FY 2018, for revenues totaling $7.527 billion. Governor Reynolds will use this estimate to create her budget recommendations for FY 2019. The Legislature will use this December estimate, or the upcoming estimate in March; whichever is lower.


Iowa leads the nation in high school graduation rate

In April, the Iowa Department of Education released data that showed 91.3 percent of students in Iowa?s Class of 2016 graduated within four years, up from 90.8 percent for the Class of 2015, which led the nation.

Now, a new National Center for Education Statistics report shows Iowa again leads the country in high school graduation rates when compared with other states. Iowa?s 2016 graduation rate was the fifth year in a row to show an increase.

The NCES report has the nationwide graduation rate at an all-time high of 84.1 percent. The only other state with a graduation rate higher than 90 percent was New Jersey, at 90.1 percent.


Health Care and Medicaid Update

Many changes to Iowa?s health care have continued to take place. I wanted to give everyone a brief update.

Last week, we learned that Medicaid patients now have just one option under the state?s Medicaid privatization system. That comes after the Reynolds Administration announced that one of the two remaining for-profit companies managing the state?s Medicaid program refused to take any new members.

The change also means thousands of Iowans will likely be forced to find new health care providers because not all Iowa providers are covered under the last for-profit company taking new members.

Only three weeks ago, the Department of Human Services (DHS) announced that the managed care organization (MCO), AmeriHealth Caritas will pull out of Iowa on December 1st and at the time their members will be assigned to, or choose from, the remaining two MCOs. This is after a month long delay by DHS after AmeriHealth notified them of their intentions.

After Medicaid members with AmeriHealth were working quickly to determine which of the remaining two MCOs is best for them or their family member, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced that all of the Medicaid members on AmeriHealth Caritas will be forced to use UnitedHealthCare. This change is because Amerigroup announced that they have reached maximum capacity and are unable to take on any new Medicaid members.

DHS is in contact with the federal government about the new change, which also includes new Medicaid enrollees. Families and Medicaid members that are being forced to move to UnitedHealthCare must now determine if their providers are contracted with them. If not, they may have to change providers, if one is available in their community. Around 10,000 previous members with AmeriHealth that selected Amerigroup will now be covered by the original fee-for-service until a new MCO is contracted with the state of Iowa.

This change, along with the numerous previous changes, is harmful and confusing to some of the most vulnerable Iowans.

If you or a family member has any questions, they should contact me to help get these issues resolved. These changes are unacceptable and just go to show that Medicaid privatization is a failure and the privatization needs to end soon in a manner that is respectful of the needs of the Medicaid members.


? Phil Miller serves District 82 in the Iowa House of Representatives. The district includes all of Davis and Van Buren counties, and most of Jefferson County.