AP top news in Iowa at 3:58 p.m. CDT

Health care exchanges near; Iowa outreach plannedDES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — After years of debate and preparation, the launch day of the biggest new social welfare program in a generation has arrived. Starting Tuesday, uninsured Iowa residents will be able to use the new online marketplaces created under President Barack Obama’s health care law to compare and buy health insurance plans.

About 264,000 Iowa residents under 65 without insurance could benefit from the law, but just how many people will immediately participate is hard to know. While Iowa is not a state where political opponents of the law are trying to aggressively impede implementation, state officials said there is still work to be done to explain the law to the public. And not all the education, assistance and marketing efforts will be fully ready in Iowa on day one.

“It’s really a massive undertaking to educate Iowans. I think we have a lot of work ahead to educate people about the options on the exchange,” said state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City who supports the law and has worked to inform his constituents about the new program.

The exchange will be available Oct. 1, with coverage starting Jan. 1 at the earliest. Under the law — which seeks to reduce the number of Americans without health insurance — individuals are required to have health insurance from their employer or purchase it. Those who don’t buy insurance will pay a penalty next year.

Iowa has agreed to a partnership exchange with the federal government, which means that the website and the technical infrastructure will all be handled by federal authorities. The state vetted and approved the insurance carriers that will be featured on the exchange and has been holding informational sessions around the state to let people know about the law.

Those shopping for benefits in Iowa will be able to choose from between at least two insurance carriers, both selling plans that offer a range of premiums, deductibles and co-pays. Some people using the exchange will qualify for subsidies to help cover the cost.

Projected premium costs are expected to be lower in Iowa than in many other states. Before tax credits that will provide an up-front discount for most buyers, the premium price for a mid-range benchmark plan will average $287 a month in Iowa, according to information released by the Obama administration earlier this week. That’s lower than the national average of $328 monthly.

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Family loses second home in 9 years to disasterDES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A fire destroyed an Iowa couple’s home and forced them to relocate nine years after a flood made their previous home unlivable.

WHO television reports (http://bit.ly/199wApPhttp://bit.ly/199wApP ) Keith and Judy Steger’s in Delaware County was damaged by fire on Friday after something on the stove caught fire.

The Stegers and their seven children spent the weekend trying to salvage what they could from the home.

In 2004, the Stegers lost their home in Elkader to flooding.

The couple’s son, Jeremy Steger, says it’s hard to express what it’s like to lose a home. He says the family just has to keep moving forward.

For now, the Stegers are planning to live in another building on their property.

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Iowa man may attempt medical marijuana defenseDAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — The criminal case against an eastern Iowa man for growing marijuana highlights the arguments for the medical use of marijuana.

Scott County prosecutors say 47-year-old Benton Mackenzie is a drug dealer who had 71 marijuana plants in his house.

But the Quad-City Times reports (http://bit.ly/16M6nXzhttp://bit.ly/16M6nXz ) Mackenzie suffers from terminal cancer and says he relies on marijuana to treat his illness.

A court is scheduled to decide next month whether Mackenzie broke Iowa law by growing marijuana in his parents’ house.

Mackenzie, who is representing himself, will likely try to argue that he needs the drug for treatment. But Iowa isn’t one of the 20 states that have legalized medical use of marijuana.

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Trial in Iowa nursing home assault delayedDES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — More than two years after an elderly convicted sex offender confessed to sexually assaulting a fellow nursing home resident 85-year-old William Cubbage still hasn’t been tried.

The 95-year-old woman Cubbage is accused of assaulting at the Pomeroy Care Center in 2011 died later and her family sued the state and accused officials of failing to protect the public.

Cubbage is being held by the Iowa Department of Corrections until a trial can be held to determine if he should be recommitted to the state’s sex offender unit.

Attorney General spokesman Geoff Greenwood says the family’s lawsuit isn’t a factor in Cubbage’s delayed trial. Instead, he says issued like the death of the Calhoun County prosecutor and schedule conflicts for lawyers and experts forced the trial to be delayed until March.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.comhttp://www.desmoinesregister.com

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Le Mars man spreads word about radon dangersLE MARS, Iowa (AP) — The equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

That’s what one expert equated the levels of radon gas to in Le Mars resident Tom Shrader’s home.

“I was kind of outraged to think my grandkids were sleeping in a house with this kind of a radon level,” Shrader told the Le Mars Daily Sentinel (http://bit.ly/14JirMB). “Before this I didn’t even know what radon really was.”

Radon is a radioactive gas in the ground from the natural decay of uranium in nearly all types of soil. It is colorless, tasteless and odorless.

Radon rises through the soil and can seep into homes through cracks and other holes in the foundation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The state of Iowa has the highest percent of homes that have over the EPA recommended radon level, and Plymouth County is one of the worst in Iowa,” Shrader said.

The EPA recommends fixing one’s home if radon levels are higher than 4 picocuries per liter.

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