Washington Evening Journal
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Washington, IA 52353
STEM Day, property tax relief and medical malpractice reform
By State Sen. Mark Lofgren
Feb. 14, 2023 10:03 am
The fifth week of the legislative session has been completed. The week was fast paced and included several items brought forward for debate on the Senate floor.
STEM Day at the Capitol
Wednesday was STEM Day at the Capitol. This event was hosted by the Governor's STEM Advisory Council and included students and their educator sponsors from around the state. Students showcased exhibits in order to increase awareness about education and careers in STEM. The students were eager to share their learning with all who would stop to listen.
Property Tax Relief for Iowans
Two Senate Study Bills were proposed last week to help address the concerns expressed by many Iowans regarding rising property taxes and to bring relief to property taxpayers in the state. The goal of these bills is to create a gradual phase-in of relief.
SSB1124 reins Iowa's property tax system back in by streamlining and simplifying our complicated tax code. It proposes to consolidate eighteen property tax levies, limits open-ended levies for additional spending by local governments, reinstates hard caps on levies, and provides controls to protect Iowa taxpayers from the overgrowth of local government.
It also will eliminate loopholes that local governments have used to exceed limits set by law and will promote an increase in voter participation in bond referendums and debt consolidation by local governments.
SSB1125 proposes modifications to Iowa's sales and use tax rates as well as other local option taxes, water use taxes, etc. with provisions for specific appropriations and for crediting moneys to the natural resources and outdoor recreation trust fund as per Article VII, Section 10 of the State of Iowa.
Both bills have been referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for further discussion and a committee recommendation as to whether they will proceed further.
Medical Malpractice Capped for Iowans
One of Gov. Reynold's priorities for this legislative session was to, "Improve access and affordability of health care for Iowans." While I laud her for this goal, I found it necessary to not support the legislation that was put forth this week both by the Iowa House and by the Senate with claims to be the answer to these issues.
Of course I care about access to and affordability of health care for all Iowans and especially those in rural areas where access has become increasingly hard to come by. But I also care about patient safety and unfortunately, the route taken in an attempt to solve these two issues will do nothing to improve safety for patients in our state. In fact, it is my fear that this legislation HF 161 will only serve to increase the number of cases of mal (bad) practice occurring in our medical facilities across the state. It is common sense that when you lower expectations and you weaken accountability, outcomes will be affected in a negative way.
The arguments for this legislation touted "out of control verdicts significantly contributing to a shortage of physicians in rural Iowa," and "extremely high malpractice insurance premiums that discourage doctors from working in Iowa."
I've done my homework on medical malpractice in Iowa and in other states as well, and I can tell you that not one single person would ever choose to go through a litigation process. Nor would they do it for the "lottery-winning experience."
These are people who have been harmed, who clearly want to make sure no other person or family have to go through the living hell they've been through. Another thing to note is that Iowa currently has the 8th lowest rate, on average, for medical malpractice premiums, with OBGYNs at about the 5th lowest nationally.
Iowa already had many protections in place for doctors stemming back to 2017 legislation that was enacted by Gov. Brandstad, who quoted, "I think we’re going to see significant benefits in terms of attracting and retaining physicians and other health care professionals as a result."
These included certificate of merit affidavit requirements to screen out frivolous lawsuits, expert witness requirements, and a soft cap of $250,000 in non-economic damages with the exception of permanent impairment, disfigurement or death.
HF161 places a hard cap of $1 million on a medical malpractice case against a doctor or $2 million on a medical malpractice case against a hospital.
The bill includes loss of pregnancy as well as permanent impairment, disfigurement or death, and also establishes the creation of a task force to review medical error rates of licensed physicians in the state.
The issue of not enough healthcare providers is not an Iowa issue. This is a nationwide issue and one that stems from a variety of reasons, valid reasons that have been brought forward as possible legislation that could better help solve this issue.
Among them are low medical reimbursement rates, incentives for practicing in a rural facility, small systems that are unable to negotiate with large insurance carriers, and just plain demographic data. The last of which, coincides with a conversation I had with Iowa Economic Development Director Debi Durham this week, when she shared with me that our biggest challenge in providing healthcare access to all Iowans is population.
Since this bill has passed both the House and the Senate, the next step is for the Governor to sign this legislation into law. However, the conversation may not be over. There were many amendments proposed and voted down that some feel could help to improve this legislation. Perhaps these will come forward as other bills yet this session.
Directors Present to Senate Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee
One of the tasks of being the chair of a Senate committee is to help the committee members to become knowledgeable of the committee's role and decision making processes. In order to do that for the Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee, I have invited in the directors and stakeholders from the groups that we will be responsible for appropriating state funds for.
By hearing from them we are able to gain an understanding of what they do and learn about their needs for the upcoming fiscal year. Last week we heard from Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend and her team.
This week, Iowa Economic Development and Iowa Finance Authority Director Debi Durham joined us. As always, they shared great information about programs already at work for Iowans and about potential areas of growth that we can look forward to in the future.
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