Talking politics

Iowa state senators Jerry Behn and Robert Bacon reviewed the state of state politics and answered questions from community members at a legislate forum at the Webster City city council chambers on Saturday.

The lawmakers sat down with local residents after “funnel week,” where bills that haven’t been approved by a committee “die.” However, Behn said that supposedly dead bills can be resurrected when legislators meet again today. The viability of that legislation largely depends on the ability of both Democrats and Republicans to work together on them.

“With the divided legislature, we’ve got Democrats in control of the senate and we’ve got Republicans in control of the house,” Behn said. “There will be bills that when they take on a partisan slant to them, a lot of those bills just simply die.”

The legislators took some time to discuss medicaid expansion in Iowa. In order to meet federal requirements, the state has to expand the program to an additional 150,000 Iowans. Behn said that expansion is large in a state with three million residents. The list of those eligible is conversely small and includes parents living with a child under the age of 18, pregnant women, women needing treatment for breast or cervical cancer, a person who is blind and disabled and those with mental illnesses.

“There’s a very small group of people that actually qualify for medicaid. It’s a 1.6 billion dollar program within the state of Iowa. Five percent of the people on medicaid in Iowa use 42 percent of that money,” Bacon said.

The incentive for states to increase medicaid participation is that the federal government will pay for 100 percent of that increase for the first three years, and will pay 90 percent of it after that, although neither legislator knew how much money that 10 percent the state would pay will consist of. Bacon said that it could be considered a no-brainer, but he doubts the federal government’s ability to pay that money as the country feels cuts from the sequester.

“You and I both know that you can borrow money for a little while and you can get away with that for a little while. But, you can’t do it for very long and we’ve been doing it as a nation for a wihle now,” Behn said.

Governor Branstad’s Healthy Iowa program was cited by Behn as one way to help those who cannot pay for their healthcare. He said improving the lifestyles of those who are not living healthily is a proactive way to trim their healthcare needs and costs over time. There is no deadline for legislators on implementing this medicaid expansion if they opt in or not. If they choose to opt out at a later date after accepting those additional people into the medicaid program, Bacon said those Iowans cannot be kicked out.