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Mental health, childcare measures moving forward

We have two more weeks until the second legislative funnel. Any of the bills that do not make it to the House floor (excluding Appropriations and Ways and Means bills) before the second funnel will be dead. Last week was light on committee work and heavy on floor debate.

Appropriations

House File 2125, a bill that will develop an enhanced rate for providers to care for patients with complex mental health needs, passed the Appropriations Committee this week. It passed Human Resources several weeks ago, but also needed to be considered in Appropriations because there is a cost to the state. This bill is important — it’s one of the bills I introduced to address the mental health access problem. On any given day, there are actually about 45-50 open mental health beds in the state, but they are not staffed. Our expectation is if the rate is higher, the health systems will staff these beds in the same fashion they staff other medical, ICU, OB, and pediatric beds. When there is a need for those beds there will be a space, and the patients will be accepted for treatment. This bill was supported unanimously in committee, and is headed to the House floor.

Human Resources

The Iowa House has been focused on improving access to childcare for the last three sessions. Last week the House passed two bills off the floor to improve access to child care for working families. Many of the recommendations of Gov. Reynolds’ Childcare Task Force look to provide flexibilities to parents and providers that reduce regulations and align Iowa’s child care regulations with the majority of other states.

House File 2198 allows 16 and 17-year-olds to provide child care in a center for school-aged children without supervision. These young adults will still require training and have a background check. Sixteen-year-olds are able to be lifeguards and CNAs, working in nursing care facilities with our vulnerable adults, but were unable to work in a child care center without direct supervision from an adult. This will help child care centers during after-school and school breaks with additional staffing.

House File 2127 allows parents to pay the difference between Child Care Assistance rates and rates charged to families who do not receive assistance. There are many centers in the state that do not accept the Child Care Assistance program. This will allow them to secure spots in those centers that do not accept CCA, with a negotiated rate. Prior to this bill, this was not allowed in Iowa. The task force report states that by not allowing this flexibility, there “can be a disincentive for child care providers to accept children receiving CCA.”

Additionally, last year the governor signed legislation to address the cliff effect in Child Care Assistance, double the income eligibility for the child care tax credit for families, increase child care assistance rates by $13.4 million, and expand options for families through non-registered homes.

In addition to these bills, I managed House File 2203, a bill that expands Iowa’s Right to Try law to ensure that Iowans have the ability to seek care for their loved ones. In 2017, the legislature unanimously passed the Right to Try law to allow for terminally ill individuals to access investigational drugs that have not been fully approved by the FDA. This bill expands the Right to Try to also include FDA approved drugs for off-label uses, and eligible individuals to individuals on life support.

I have received calls from around the state from desperate family members of patients suffering from COVID; so have my colleagues. This was a minimal change to the law, and it passed on the House floor with some bipartisan support. As you know, I am an advocate for vaccination; I also think all methods of treatment should be available to those suffering.

This bill also clarifies liability protections the legislature passed in 2020 for health care providers related to COVID. The bill expands those protections for health care providers to also ensure that they cannot be disciplined by their licensing board for those same protections, including prescribing and dispensing off-label drugs for the treatment of COVID.

State Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge, represents Fort Dodge and northern Webster County.

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