November 27, 2015

Judge issues ruling on Medicaid management

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

A ruling from an administrative law judge issued late Wednesday afternoon recommends Iowa dismiss one of the four contracts awarded to companies that were chosen to manage Iowa’s Medicaid program.

The Branstad administration wants to implement the managed care plan on January 1. It would privatize the state’s $4.2 billion health care program for the poor and disabled. The unsuccessful bidders for the contracts filed the legal challenge.

The judge’s ruling questions the contract awarded to WellCare, a company that had three former executives sent to prison last year on fraud convictions. A statement released by Governor Branstad’s office expressed confidence that the plan to transfer management of the Medicaid program would “remain on schedule.”

Health care providers and patients have complained that the January 1 target date for privatization is unrealistic.

Gov. Branstad’s office issues statement on Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decision on Medicaid Modernization

(DES MOINES)  – Gov. Terry Branstad’s Communications Director, Ben Hammes, issued a statement on the ALJ’s decision on Medicaid Modernization that was released late Wednesday afternoon.

The ALJ’s decision allows Medicaid Modernization to move forward.  The decision emphasizes that the process was both “thorough and methodical.”  We continue to evaluate the next steps in the administrative review of the procurement process and remain on schedule to implement our plan on January 1, 2016.

Southwest Iowa farmer carves half-an-acre Sanders ‘yard sign’ in field

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. (file photo)

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. (file photo)

A southwest Iowa farmer has carved the first name of his favorite presidential candidate into the landscape.

“I had a couple of yard signs stolen and I was out on my tractor there that day and it just kind of hit me. I though: ‘Geez. I’ve got a perfect place for this.’ It’s soybean stubble which would make it show up good, over next to the road. So I just thought: ‘I’ll go try it. It probably won’t work. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll just scratch through it if it doesn’t’ and it just seemed to turn out perfect,” says 68-year-old Michael Pattavina of Clarinda, a Bernie Sanders supporter.

He didn’t map out a plan for the “Bernie” in his bean field. Pattavina just used a chisel plow on the back of his tractor to cut a seven-foot-wide swath as he wrote out the six letters in his field.

“It probably took me about 20 to 30 minutes to do it,” Pattavina says. “The ‘B’ is about 60 feet tall.”

Pattavina’s “flat Bernie” billboard is the talk of the town.

“Whenever I see somebody on the street, they talk to me about it and say they really like it and everything — even the conservatives,” Pattavina says. “I might mention that I live in an ultra-conservative area.”

The sign can clearly be seen from the air, as the name “Bernie” covers about half an acre in Pattavina’s field. Pattavina says he didn’t do it “to be popular” but he would love to hear from his favorite candidate at some point.

“It only cost me a few cents for the fuel and a little bit of time and that’s exactly what Bernie’s all about,” Pattavina says.

The farm Pattavina lives on has been in his family for 158 years and Pattavina has farmed the ground all his life.

(Reporting by Alisa Nelson of the Missourinet)

New poll finds little change in Democratic presidential race in Iowa

Hillary Clinton (file photo)

Hillary Clinton (file photo)

A new Quinnipiac University poll finds the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in Iowa is “virtually unchanged” from October.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has the support of 51 percent of Iowa likely Democratic Caucus goers. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is nine points behind, at 42 percent.

“Not much has changed, but there’s news in that,” assistant poll director Peter Brown says. “Essentially Secretary Clinton has taken a solid, not overwhelming, but solid lead in the Caucuses and for her, that’s just fine.”

Brown says the only way Clinton will lose the nomination would be if Sanders is able to beat her in the early states of Iowa or New Hampshire.

“That might allow him to generate some momentum and perhaps, then, create some problems for Secretary Clinton,” Brown says. “But if she stays 10 points ahead of him, whether or not some pundit says: ‘Well that’s not a very big win,’ sometimes in politics, a win really is a win.”

Pollsters asked likely Iowa Caucus goers to rate which candidate they believe would best manage the economy.

“Historically, the candidate who is judged the best able to handle the economy generally always wins the Democratic nomination and yet we have here is a situation here where Senator Sanders is viewed as best able to handle the economy,” Brown says. “It doesn’t seem to be making a difference in the horse race numbers.”

The poll found Martin O’Malley, the other Democrat running for president, had the support of four percent of likely Iowa Caucus-goers.

Quinnipiac University conducted its poll from November 16th through the 20th and released the results for the Republican presidential race in Iowa yesterday. Likely participants in both party’s caucuses were asked about a key topic on the campaign trail.

“Eighty percent of Iowans who are going to vote in the Republican Caucuses say they don’t want any Syrian refugees allowed in the United States or Iowa,” Brown says. “Conversely, 80 percent of Democrats say: ‘Sure, we as a country should admit them.'”

Brown says it shows how strongly this issue splits along party lines.

“The question of whether the United States and Iowa should take in Syrian refugees is a great way to see the huge division among Iowans,” Brown says.

A national poll conducted last week by Bloomberg Politics found 53 percent of all Americans oppose admitting Syrian refugees and Brown says that shows independent voters are leaning against allowing refugees from Syrian into the U.S.

Rubio backs RFS, but says it should expire as scheduled in 2022

Marco Rubio (file photo)

Marco Rubio (file photo)

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio says he supports the so-called ethanol mandate — now that it’s in place, but he favors letting it expire seven years from now.

“The Renewable Fuels Standard is not something that I would have voted for had I been in the senate, but it is now existing law and I think it would be unfair to simply yank it away from people that have made investments based on its existence,” Rubio says. “So my argument is we should allow it to continue until it expires and hopefully by then the industry will be able to sustain itself.”

The Renewable Fuels Standard is set to end in 2022. The Obama Administration has a November 30th deadline to release the federally-required ethanol production levels not only for 2016, but this year and last year, too, since previous deadlines were missed.

Rubio has just wrapped up a five-day tour of the state. During a stop this week in Carroll, Rubio argued expanding overseas trade is important to rural America. Rubio, who is a senator from Florida, says the Trans Pacific Partnership could unlock consumer markets like Japan where some U.S. agricultural products aren’t sold.

“I’ve seen the impact that the South Korean deal has had on Florida citrus,” Rubio says. “It’s been very positive for Florida citrus growers and I would imagine that to open it up to all of the Asia-Pacific region to more export would be more profitable not just to them, but to all agriculture across the country.”

Rubio isn’t commiting to voting for the trade agreement, though.

“I support free trade,” Rubio says. “I want to support a Trans Pacific Partnership. Whether this specific one they’ve negotiated is the right one for our country, we’re in the process of reviewing that.”

Congress must vote to either ratify or reject the Trans Pacific Partnership. A date for that vote is not yet scheduled.

(Reporting by Chantelle Grove, KCIM, Carroll’ additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)

Group rallies in support of Syrian refugees

Rally outside the state capitol in support of Syrian refugees.

Rally outside the state capitol in support of Syrian refugees.

Around 50 people gathered outside the state capitol Tuesday to rally against Governor Terry Branstad’s order blocking Syrian refugees from settling in Iowa.

The event’s organizer, Samantha Thomas, is the executive director of Global Arts Therapy. “Mr. Branstad, I ask you to find it in your heart, and to find the courage, and to stop being afraid of people that are different from you. Please Mr. Branstad, look around this beautiful state and recognize that we have refugees from all over the world,” Thomas said.

She described Branstad’s comments on the possibility of refugees coming to Iowa as “hatred rhetoric.” Brenda Schumann held a homemade sign which included the words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.”

Schumann said she believes the screening process for refugees is already extensive, and doesn’t think people should be fearful that refugees coming to Iowa are secretly terrorists.

“The other thing is, I hear ‘well we’ve got homeless, we’ve got veterans’ and we do. But it’s not one or the other. Most of the people that care about people, care about our homeless, as well as the refugees. We’re a rich enough country that we can help both,” Schumann said.

After the Paris terrorist attacks, Branstad ordered all state agencies to stop any work on settlement of Syrian refugees. But, the governor recently said he would be “more willing” to accept refugees, if a bill before Congress to tighten the screening process becomes law.

On Monday, a group of Iowa Clergy submitted a letter to Branstad, condemning what they call “discrimination” against Syrian refugees “on the basis of religion.”

Thanks to Sarah Boden, Iowa Public Radio


Senator Grassley says take global travel alert seriously

Senator Chuck Grassley.

Senator Chuck Grassley.

Many Iowans will be traveling across the state or across the country for Thanksgiving, but a few will be making international trips in the next week.

The U.S. State Department is issuing a rare global travel alert due to increased terrorist threats. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says America’s intelligence community is keeping closely attuned to any rumblings that may indicate trouble.

“CIA, FBI use the word chatter,” Grassley says. “There’s a lot of chatter out there coming from all of the terrorist organizations that you can name, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, ISIS, probably a dozen more you could name, seems to be a lotta’ chatter.”

There are reportedly no specific threats directed at the United States, but officials are warning Americans to be more vigilant after recent multiple attacks around the world. “I think it’s reasonable to take it very serious,” Grassley says. “I hope nothing comes of it. We had the same thing July the 4th, not too much came out of it. That’s because the FBI was on top of things and arrested several people before they had an opportunity to do any damage.”

The alert from the State Department says travelers abroad should avoid large crowds and crowded places, and exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at holiday festivals or events.

Grassley says, “We saw what happened in Paris so I think we ought to listen to what the State Department says.” The November 13th attacks on the French capitol for which ISIS claimed responsibility claimed 130 lives and injured hundreds. Other recent attacks struck in Denmark, Mali, Nigeria and Turkey.

The travel alert will remain in place into late February.


Iowa’s ‘Prince Farming’ is now ethanol pitchman

Chris Soules

Chris Soules

The Iowan nicknamed “Prince Farming” during his time on a reality TV show has stepped into the debate over the future of ethanol.

“To protect something that’s really important to my family’s farming operation as well as thousands of others,” says Chris Soules, who was the star of “The Bachelor” last spring.

This fall, he was a contestant on “Dancing With The Stars” and now Soules is featured in a pro-ethanol advertisement to counter ads being run by the oil industry.

“The truth is biofuels mean more jobs, less foreign oil and cleaner air,” Soules says in the ad. “Tell Washington politicians to support clean American biofuels.”

Soules grew up on a family farm near Arlington in Fayette County and graduated from Iowa State University. Growth Energy, the promotional arm of the ethanol industry, is running the ad starring Soules. During a telephone news conference to debut the ad, Soules told reporters ethanol has been an economic benefit not just to farmers, but to people in rural Iowa who’re employed in the ethanol industry.

“Given the things that have occurred recently with Paris, it’s been made very clear that we need to be able to secure our nation’s energy supply,” Soules said, “…and provide those jobs and that stability to the Midwest and to farmers all over.”

In his concluding episode as “The Bachelor” Soules was standing in a barn on his family farm when he proposed to a Chicago nurse. The pro-ethanol ad in which he now stars is airing in Iowa, Illnois, Indiana and Ohio.

There’s a November 30 deadline for federal regulators to announce three years worth of ethanol production guidelines, for ultimately blending ethanol into gasoline.