2020 Session Pause- Week 3

 Legislative Update:

On Thursday, 4/2 the Iowa Legislature announced they will extend the suspension of session until April 30th in keeping with CDC recommendations and the Governor’s Pubic Health Emergency Declaration. We continue to hear that legislators are working on budget priorities during this time.

Iowa Democratic Leaders, Sen. Janet Petersen and Rep. Todd Prichard along with their caucuses called for the Governor to issue a shelter-in-place order. They released a letter on Thursday, 4/2, outlining their request suggesting exceptions for food, medicine, and manufacturers producing essential services. To read the full letter click here.

  • This letter came on the heels of John Forbes, ranking member of the House Health and Human Resources budget subcommittee, issuing the same appeal as a legislator and pharmacist.

On Thursday, 4/2 the state’s economic development director, Debi Durham, said the Invest in Iowa Act, the governor’s tax reform proposal, is likely dead for this session. The proposal would have raised the sales tax to fund environmental programs and mental health as well as cut other taxes.

Relevant COVID-19 Updates:

Iowa’s COVID-19 Cases

As of Monday (4/6) we are 5 weeks into this pandemic being documented in Iowa. As of today there are 946 positive cases in 75 counties, 25 deaths total, 1,850 tests available at the State Hygienic Lab, 99 hospitalized, and 284 have recovered in Iowa. An updated time frame for Iowa’s peak was provided over the weekend. The projected time frame is between April 30- May 4th.

There are status reports of monitoring and testing of COVID-19 in Iowa is provided by IDPH and can be found here. In addition, a public hotline has been established for Iowans with questions about COVID-19. The line is available 24/7 by calling 2-1-1 or 1-800-244-7431.

State Response

  • On Thursday, 4/2, the Governor extended Iowa’s Public Health Emergency Declaration from March 31 to April 30th, which is in line with the President’s actions and CDC recommendations. The order calls for the continued closing of schools and some non-essential businesses.
  • On Monday, 4/6 Governor Reynolds signed a new proclamation with additional closures extending through the April 30th guideline including: malls, tobacco/vaping stores, museums, bingo halls, pool halls, arcades, amusement parks, social and fraternal clubs, skating rinks, outdoor and indoor playgrounds, campgrounds, museums, aquariums, zoos, race tracks and speedways, and additional retail locations.
  • On Tuesday, 3/31, the Governor, extended the declaration to provide regulatory relief allowing bars and restaurants to provide carry-out or delivery of alcoholic beverages until April 7, 2020. It also authorizes the sale of mixed drinks and cocktails for carry-out or delivery through April 7, 2020.
  • On Tuesday 3/31 the Governor announced the creation of the Iowa COVID-19 Legal Information Hotline. This is a free service for Iowans experiencing legal issues due to the COVID-19 emergency. Iowa Legal Aid, Iowa State Bar Association, and the Polk County Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project are partnering to provide services. To reach the hotline call 1 (800) 332-0419.
  • Iowa DHS is allowing Food Assistance EBT cards to make online food purchases. This is one way to address the growing needs of families on state assistance, who are working to practice social distancing and reduce the risk of community spread. For an outline of all the food assistance steps being taken, please refer here.
  • On Thursday, 4/2 the Iowa Dept. of Education announced they have put together resources for online learning. This website includes learning resources and guidance for Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade education.
  • On Friday, 4/3 the Iowa Board of Medicine voted to recommend the Governor issue a shelter-in-place order. One Board member stated, “when you look at states that have implemented a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home mandate, they have been shown to do better.”
  • On Saturday, 4/3 the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted $44 million in federal emergency funding for medical equipment including personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators.

Health Care Update

Below is a high-level health care update related to COVID-19, based on information from CMS, Iowa DHS, Iowa Medicaid Enterprise, and the Governor’s Office.

  • On Monday, 3/30 CMS expanded Medicare telehealth services: including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech language pathology. While Medicare telehealth services are allowed, therapy services would need to bill under an approved telehealth provider. For more details click the full letter here.
  • On Tuesday, 3/31 DHS released a provider toolkit which includes information on telehealth, long-term care, billing and reimbursement, and MCO resources. IME and MCOs are working to develop additional guidance for providers.
    • Telehealth: There is no change in the reimbursement rate for services provided via telehealth. IME clarifies that telehealth should be utilized and covered stating, “Part of this emergency provision will allow services that by definition are direct contact services and are typically rendered in person to be rendered via telehealth when clinically appropriate and necessary to preserve the health and safety of our Medicaid member.”
    • Respite: Respite can be provided while family is in home or working from home. DHS has requested this through waiver services. Providers and IDTs can work with case managers to address any needed changes in the member’s service plan.
  • On Tuesday, 3/31 Iowa received approval of the HCBS 1915(c) Appendix K Waiver for Medicaid. This waiver allows the State to make changes to their HCBS Waiver to better respond to emergency situations. Often this is used for providing services in different settings or relax provider requirements.
  • The Governor signed a new proclamation on 4/2 which extended many of the provisions of the previous public health proclamation to April 30. The proclamation also included language that would temporarily suspend the regulatory provisions of Iowa Code and administrative rules to that prohibit the practice of therapeutic substitution by a pharmacist without prior consent of the prescriber.
  • If there is a specific issue you are facing, Medicaid has established the following email account to receive those concerns:IMECOVID19@dhs.state.ia.us. We ask that if you have an issue arise and you email this account, you copy us so that we can continue to be of assistance we receive follow-up and questions from the State.

Absentee Ballot Request Forms to be Mailed for June 2 Primary

The Iowa Secretary of State’s office announced it will mail every registered voter in Iowa an absentee ballot request form ahead of the state’s June 2 primary. The plan to send ballot request forms to 2 million Iowans comes as concerns about in-person voting have mounted due to the coronavirus pandemic. Other states have moved their primary dates back out of fear of spreading the virus.

Iowa’s June 2 primary is scheduled to go forward as planned, but Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is encouraging Iowans to vote by mail to reduce the spread of the virus. Pate extended the early voting period for mailed ballots to 40 days, up from 29. That means Iowans will be able to cast mailed ballots beginning on April 23. To learn about this story READ MORE here.

Governor Reynolds appointed Iowa Supreme Court Justice

On Friday, 4/3, Governor Reynolds appointed Matthew McDermott to the Iowa Supreme Court to fill the vacancy that arose from Justice David Wiggins retirement. McDermott is from West Des Moines and currently practices law at Belin McCormick, P.C. and serves as the President of the Board of Directors of Iowa Legal Aid. This is the governor’s fourth appointment to the Iowa Supreme Court.