Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

Sioux City Journal. Nov. 14, 2013.

Legislature should make tuition freeze a goal

Helping Iowa students and their families meet the costs of attending our three public universities by freezing tuition for another year should be a goal for state leaders in 2014.

The Board of Regents earlier this year proposed a second consecutive one-year tuition freeze for Iowa undergraduate students at Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa in exchange for a 4 percent (or about $20 million) increase in state funding.

In a meeting with the Regents last month, Gov. Terry Branstad said he was supportive of the idea but wouldn’t commit to anything until he first sees December’s revenue estimate and funding requests from other state agencies.

In our view, barring an unexpected big drop in the revenue estimate next month, the 4 percent appropriation and tuition freeze should get done, regardless of other funding requests.

It’s about priorities.

As lawmakers made property tax reform and education reform a funding priority this year, the Legislature next year should find a way to hold the line on tuition costs at Regent institutions for in-state undergraduate students and their families for another year.

In our view, promising to freeze tuition in exchange for a reasonable increase in funding demonstrates a good-faith pledge by the universities to contain costs.

Our state’s economy is strong and growing, we have a large budget surplus. This affordable investment in our Regent institutions through which the state would strengthen our universities and assist our students and their families in affording them would be good for Iowa and for Iowans, in both the short- and long-term.

This year marked the first time in more than 30 years tuition did not go up for Iowa undergraduate students at the three state universities. We believe Iowa students and their families deserve another year of relief.

We understand the Legislature can’t and shouldn’t give everyone everything they want next year, but this funding request is one we urge lawmakers put near the top of their list.

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Quad City Times. Nov. 13, 2013.

Bullying report helps but still needs work

A new method of reporting bullying incidents in Iowa schools is an improvement over last year’s report, but also points out problems in how incidents are recorded.

The new data released by the Iowa Department of Education is far more detailed than past reports. For example, the category of “what the victim was bullied for” contains 17 possible reasons ranging from age, race, religion and gender identity to physical attributes, political belief and socioeconomic status.

But it seems clear that standards of reporting are viewed differently when districts far smaller than Davenport, like Clinton, Columbus, Maquoketa, Muscatine, Bettendorf and Pleasant Valley are reporting more bullying incidents.

Bettendorf, with just over 4,000 students, reports almost four times as many bullying incidents as Davenport, with almost 16,000 students. Logic would dictate that there’s a likely glitch in reporting that needs to be addressed by the state.

Forty-six districts reported no bullying incidents at all, which would be a great achievement to celebrate. But, again, it raises questions whether all districts are viewing incidents the same.

“I think it’s quite obvious across the state that there are still varying degrees of understanding of what may constitute as bullying and/or reportable events,” said Bettendorf Superintendent Theron Schutte.

While the report has its problems, it still gives school officials a guide for addressing bullying incidents in their buildings. With the greatest number of bullying incidents based on a person’s physical characteristics, school districts can concentrate on that area for staff and student training.

Parents can look at the statistics in individual districts and use them as a teaching moment with their children.

The report, as well as information gleaned from an anti-bullying summit in Des Moines, also will likely provide guidance to Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa legislators during the 2014 session as they look at ways the state’s anti-bullying laws can be strengthened.

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The Des Moines Register. Nov. 15, 2013.

A slow start due to fumbles, but thousands finally insured

This week numerous news organizations reported that “only” 106,000 Americans signed up for health insurance during October, the first month new coverage options were available under the Affordable Care Act. On Thursday, President Obama acknowledged his administration “fumbled the roll-out” of the law and apologized for the federal Website that is plagued with problems. There has been much focus on what is not going well with the implementation of Obamacare.

Then again, the law has helped many Americans. There are now 106,000 Americans who will have comprehensive health insurance coverage on Jan. 1. Hundreds of thousands more will sign up in the coming months as problems with the Website are resolved. Young people are allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance policies, which keeps them off the rolls of the uninsured. Newly created high-risk pools provided temporary relief to Americans who previously couldn’t find insurance anywhere. Some states have enrolled tens of thousands of new, low-income residents in Medicaid.

In Colorado, there were at least six times more applications for government-run Medicaid in October than the previous month. A lengthy outreach effort is credited for finding and enrolling the poor, mentally ill, single fathers and thousands of residents who were previously ineligible for the program. The state installed self-service kiosks in hospitals, libraries and community clinics where people can fill out applications. Nurses organized to promote Medicaid to low-income patients without health insurance.

Then there’s Iowa.

Unlike governors in many other states, Gov. Terry Branstad refused to simply expand a 50-year-old government program to insure more Iowans under the new law. While elected officials in other states quickly agreed to expand Medicaid and then directed their energies to outreach efforts, Iowa’s elected officials spent months arguing about what to do. They finally agreed on an alternative plan to cover the poor that requires federal approval and millions of federal dollars.

So far, Iowans don’t know if the state is going to receive either. Meanwhile, the state is sending letters to tens of thousands of Iowans telling them they are enrolled in a new plan that has not yet been approved or funded by Washington.

Yes, the Obama administration “fumbled” some aspects of the Affordable Care Act. But states like Iowa have done their part, too, to make things worse.

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(Mason City) Globe Gazette. Nov. 12, 2013.

Polk judge right to block telemed abortion rule

Because there are so many questions, we’re glad that a Polk County judge has blocked a state panel’s efforts to stop a rule that would curtail doctors’ ability to dispense abortion-inducing pills via video.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland trumpeted a victory when Judge Karen Romano granted its request for a temporary stay against the Iowa Board of Medicine rule that was slated to take effect last Wednesday.

Her stay order will remain in place while the issue is decided in the courts.

At issue is the practice in which physicians use a remote-control system to conduct medical assessments with patients in rural clinics. When they are satisfied, they are able to dispense Mifepristone, also known as RU-486, in the early stages of a pregnancy.

There are strong arguments on both sides of this issue.

Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said — and no one can argue this — that the organization’s top priority is the health and safety of the patients.

She said the judge’s stay of the order “will ensure that Iowa women can continue to receive safe health care, without delay, from the providers they trust.”

June also noted there have been no complaints from the more than 5,000 who have used the Planned Parenthood’s telemedicine delivery system for medication abortion at 15 health centers.

And she noted what she called the lack of medical evidence or information that indicated the Iowa Board of Medicine’s ruling was based on women’s safety and health.

On the other side, Jennifer Bowen, executive director of Iowa Right to Life, said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has documented 2,207 adverse events involving U.S. women who have had medical abortions, including 14 deaths.

The board’s executive director, Mark Bowden, said the court’s stay perpetuates what state regulators believe is inadequate health care.

He said the board believes a physician must establish an appropriate physician-patient relationship prior to providing a medical abortion and said that must be done in-person with a medical review and exam.

We’re not convinced about that, especially if more than 5,000 cases indicate no problems with the telemedicine system.

Neither is Romano, who said she was not persuaded that the Board of Medicine’s proposal achieves its stated goal of ensuring safe and healthy administration of health-care services.

Romano also took issue with the objection based on the need for an in-person meeting between doctor and patient. She said, and we agree, that it’s “peculiar, as petitioners point out, that the board would mandate this for abortion services and not any other telemedicine practices in Iowa.”

Again, pointing to the 5,000 cases, she said there was no evidence “that the court can rely on” to conclude that telemedicine abortion procedures don’t protect patients’ health and safety.

Another point she made that we agree with: It’s hard to imagine how decreasing the number of safe and effective abortion services supports women receiving good health care.

“If anything, the opposite is true; women who would be unable to attend one of the five remaining clinics that could maintain chemical abortion services despite the implementation of (the proposed rule) would not receive adequate health care as they would likely be unable to access those services,” Romano wrote.

Increasing surgical abortions would be much more invasive and risky, she also noted.

Then there is the unpleasant specter of women trying to self-terminate their pregnancies, “undoubtedly the least safe method of abortion,” she wrote.

There has much contention not only regarding the Board of Medicine’s ruling but in the board’s makeup itself. Opponents contended appointments to the board were political and of the conservative bent.

Whatever the case, the health and safety of a woman should trump politics every time. Women throughout the state, not just in metro areas, should have the option of telemedicine — just as is the case with other health problems.

Romano has raised some valid issues. We’re glad she has provided more time so that all the details can be presented to allow Iowa women the best care in the method they choose best to receive it.

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