February 5, 2016

Democrats seeking stop to Medicaid privatization

Pam Jochum

Pam Jochum

Democrats in the Iowa Senate plan to pass a bill that would stop Governor Branstad’s plan to move the 560,000 Medicaid patients in Iowa into private managed care plans.

“We have introduced that bill because our constituents have told us over and over again that the governor’s plan is failing,” says Senate President Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque. “He has tried to do too much, too fast and as a result he has failed to protect vulnerable Iowans.”

The Branstad Administration originally planned to start the switch on January 1, but federal officials who oversee the Medicaid program ordered a 60-day delay. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says many Iowa Medicaid patients can’t figure out if their doctor has signed up with one of the three managed care companies or if they’ll be forced to switch to a new doctor.

“This thing’s a mess right now. The roll-out has been horrible: wrong phone numbers, people that can’t get their questions answered,” Gronstal says. “…It’s a disaster.”

Republicans are defending the new system and making clear the effort by Democrats to stop the switch will go nowhere in the Iowa House where Republicans have a majority of votes. House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake, suggests Democrats are stoking the chaos.

“I’m hearing many people with question,” Upmeyer says. “And the reason we’re having so many questions is because we’re spending our time protecting the status quo instead of moving forward.”

Change is a challenge, but one that should be embraced, according to Upmeyer. Upmeyer says the governor’s staff has assured her the state is complying with the federal government’s checklist and the program will be ready for the switch on March 1.

American Lung Association calls for more funds to fight smoking

cigaretteAn annual report from the American Lung Association is giving Iowa failing grades in three categories in the effort to prevent and reduce tobacco use.

Micki Sandquist, Executive of the American Lung Association in Iowa, believes there are a number of things the state could do that would ultimately reduce death and disease tied to cigarettes and similar products.

“Number one is to increase our funding for the Division of Tobacco Use Prevention and Control — getting it back to when we had over $12 million to work with our programming in Iowa when we saw a reduction in the use of tobacco products,” Sandquist said.

In 2008, the Iowa Department of Health’s Division of Tobacco Use Prevention and Control had a budget of $12.29 million.In fiscal year 2015, the division’s budget was just over $5.5 million.

Sandquist is also calling for an increase of the tax placed on tobacco products. “We know that is another way and a best practice to reduce the use of tobacco products,” Sandquist said. Iowa’s current tax on cigarettes is $1.36 per pack. The American Lung Association in Iowa is lobbying for a one buck increase to $2.36 per pack.

The 14th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report does give Iowa an “A” grade in the category of “Smokefree Air,” but Sandquist says there’s room for improvement there too.

“We still have that loophole to close with making all public places smoke free,” Sandquist said.



Blood drive to honor Iowa teen, avid donor, killed in crash

McKenzie Cummins

McKenzie Cummins

A young woman from western Iowa who was killed in an accident last year is serving as the inspiration for a blood drive today.

Katie Marshall, with the Red Cross, says the event in Moorhead, Iowa was organized by friends of 18-year-old McKenzie Cummins. “McKenzie was unfortunately killed in a car accident in August, just a couple of weeks before she was set to start college,” Marshall said. “We are holding a blood drive in her honor and we’re asking anybody who has never given blood before to maybe find a blood drive in your area and think of McKenzie.”

Cummins, a 2015 graduate of West Monona High School, was a cheerleader, student council president, and a talented artist. She had plans to attend Wayne State.

Cummins was also an avid blood donor. “She had donated blood 16 times. So, from the time that she turned 16, she was an avid donor — giving about every 56 days, which is how often you’re eligible,” Marshall said.

McKenzie’s dad, Robert Cummins, described his daughter as “everything a father would want in a child.” He added, “She was hardworking, caring, compassionate and always helping anyone in need.”

Today’s blood drive at the Moorhead Community Center runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

State health official says Zika virus not a big concern

MosquitoA disease that’s quickly spread to more than 20 countries in Central and South America is grabbing a lot of headlines this week, but a top state health official says Iowans are at a very low risk.

The Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes. Doctor Patty Quinlisk, medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, says projections say Zika may infect four-million people over the next year.

“I don’t know that we need to be concerned about it if we stay in Iowa,” Dr. Quinlisk says. “The real issue for Iowans is if we travel to some of these countries where the Zika virus is found, especially for a woman who’s pregnant or might become pregnant.”

The disease is linked to an increase in birth defects in Brazil. Common symptoms of Zika virus include: fever, rash, joint pain and red, itchy eyes. Quinlisk says it’s believed only a certain type of mosquito is responsible for spreading the virus and the insect has been in Iowa before, but not often.

“When we look at the mosquitoes that we know right now could carry Zika virus, there is one species which very, very, very rarely will hit our southern border,” Quinlisk says. “I think there’s been four found in the last 40 years of testing mosquitoes in Iowa of that particular species.”

A person can only catch the virus from a mosquito. It isn’t spread from person to person. The CDC has issued a travel alert for 21 nations due to Zika.

(Thanks to Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City, for contributing to this report.)


Red Cross says blood supply drops as bad weather hits

Red-CrossSevere winter weather has left blood supplies for many hospitals at critically low levels.

Katie Marshall, spokesperson for the Midwest region of the Red Cross, says there’s an “emergency need” for blood donors.

“What we’re seeing at this point is that the blood that’s coming in is going out to hospitals just as quickly as donors can come in and give it,” Marshall said. Blood supplies were already low at the start of the year because of the usual slowdown in donations around the holidays. But, supplies have been further depleted by winter storms.

A handful of blood drives in Iowa are among the more than 300 blood drives that have been canceled across 20 states since January 1. “Many blood drives have been canceled for days on end and that really takes a toll on the whole blood supply nationwide,” Marshall said. Blood supplies have been hit especially hard by the weekend blizzard that struck the East Coast. But, wintery weather in Iowa has also resulted in delayed donation drives.

“We can’t get to certain rural communities if ice hits on a certain day or there’s just a little bit too much snow,” Marshall said. Blood donation appointments can be scheduled by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org, or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.


U-I project helps women veterans deal with postpartum depression

Michael O'Hara

Michael O’Hara

Postpartum depression strikes about one in every eight women within about six months of having a baby, but University of Iowa researchers say the rate may be higher for women veterans.

Dr. Michael O’Hara, a professor in the U-I Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, is working with the Veterans Administration on a program to help women veterans suffering from postpartum depression, especially those in rural areas.

“Many of them have been exposed to combat situations or have been in war zones or might have experienced sexual or physical abuse while they were in the military,” O’Hara says. “These kinds of exposures to traumatic events are associated with higher rates of depression.” The U-I is now working with about 40 women veterans through an online pilot program that involves six sessions over six weeks targeting mood management.

“The Mom Mood Booster program is basically focusing on helping women who are experiencing postpartum depression to increase their participation in positive events, to manage their negative mood and cognitions,” O’Hara says. “It focuses on the partner relationship and the woman’s relationship with the baby.” Some symptoms of postpartum depression may include low moods, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, insomnia, appetite disturbances, difficulty concentrating, and suicidal thoughts.

So far, he says the Mom Mood Booster program is having a positive impact. “We support it with what we call phone coaches,” O’Hara says. “These are staff members who contact the women veterans every week, provide support and encouragement, answer questions and just help to keep them motivated to go through the program.” O’Hara’s own experiences in the military may help him relate to some of the pressures women veterans are dealing with, as he served four-and-a-half years in the Navy during the Vietnam era.

“Certainly, there weren’t nearly as many women in the service back in those days but I knew many women and they had lots of difficult experiences,” O’Hara says. “It does make a difference being a veteran myself and that’s part of my motivation to reaching out to the VA to do work with veteran women. It feels like I can give back a little bit.”

Women in rural areas often don’t seek out or have access to mental health care, so O’Hara says reaching out to rural veteran women is important. The program will run through September and then the VA will determine whether to continue funding.

Live Healthy Iowa Challenge begins another round with the New Year

Chuck Long

Chuck Long

An annual event that’s designed to help Iowans lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle is entering its 15th year.

Iowa Sports Foundation executive director Chuck Long spoke at a statehouse news conference this morning to mark the kick off of the 2016 Live Healthy Iowa challenge.

“You’ve made your New Year’s resolution and this is a great way to back it up,” Long said. “What’s that resolution? It’s usually to lose weight and get in shape.” The 100-day, team-based challenge runs through April 1. Over the course of the next 10 weeks, teams of 2 to 10 people track the exercise minutes and weight loss through Live Healthy Iowa’s website.

“If you haven’t registered, there’s still time to join us as registration remains open through February 7,” Long said. For $20, all participants receive an official 10 Week Wellness Challenge T-shirt, a one-year magazine subscription of choice, exclusive discounts at businesses statewide, and chances to win weekly prizes.

In 2001, the Iowa Sports Foundation launched the health challenge, originally called Lighten Up Iowa. According to the Governor’s office, over the past 15 years, Live Healthy Iowa has helped over 308,000 Iowans to record nearly 600 million minutes of activity and shed 1,146,395 pounds.