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

Iowa criticized for not disclosing death detailsDES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Family members of an Iowa man who died in a state mental institution last fall are upset officials failed to disclose that a mistake by staff may have caused his death.

Dana Vasey told the Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/KrOlGohttp://dmreg.co/KrOlGo ) her family may not have known the circumstances of Dick Meredith’s death if the newspaper hadn’t reported on a $8,250 fine the Clarinda Mental Health Institute received.

Staff at the institute were criticized for giving a resident who had trouble swallowing a peanut butter sandwich. That led to a severe choking incident and the resident’s death.

Vasey says she had to make numerous calls before officials acknowledged that her uncle choked after receiving the wrong food.

A spokeswoman declined to discuss the incident because officials won’t discuss individual cases publicly.

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Iowa residents brace for dangerously cold weatherDES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowans are preparing to deal with bitter cold temperatures over the next few days, and some schools have cancelled classes as a precaution.

The National Weather Service says temperatures will fall as low as 15-to-25 degrees below zero Sunday night and Monday. And strong northwest winds will create wind chills of 35-to-60 degrees below zero across the state.

The coldest temperatures are expected in northern Iowa, but all of the state will experience the artic blast.

Several school districts in northeast Iowa decided to cancel Monday’s classes early because of the frigid forecast. School officials didn’t want children to be standing outside waiting for buses during the dangerous cold.

The cancellations include the Mason City, Charles City, Marble Rock, Riceville and Hampton-Dumont districts.

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Iowans grapple with new health lawDES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The federal health care law is now in effect, but many Iowa residents are still trying to figure out their new insurance plans or are continuing to seek health coverage.

Jan. 1 marked the first day for many provisions of the new law, including insurance coverage for those who signed up for private plans on the federal enrollment website. Iowa’s modified Medicaid expansion — which uses federal dollars to offer coverage to some low-income Iowans — also started that day.

Experts at insurance companies, health clinics and enrollment centers said they’ve been busy fielding questions from people who either have coverage or need it. And some Iowa residents who thought they might be getting Medicaid coverage remain in limbo due to processing delays by the federal government.

Chris Peterson, 59, is among the state residents who still haven’t been able to sign up for a plan through the federal website. A farmer and consultant from Clear Lake, Peterson said he was still waiting to hear what kind of subsidy he and his wife would qualify for to offset the insurance cost.

“I’ve had probably dozens of phone calls trying to get to the bottom of things,” said Peterson, who said that he is still paying for a plan that costs him over $16,000 a year in annual premiums, which he said he can’t afford. “These Healthcare.gov people, it’s no or I don’t know.”

Iowa is one of 36 states using the federal HealthCare.gov enrollment website, which was beset by technical problems after its Oct. 1 launch. Those glitches contributed to the troubled rollout for President Barack Obama’s health care law, though upgrades have helped ease the website issues.

The health care law seeks to reduce the number of people without health insurance — estimated at roughly 300,000 in Iowa — both through an expansion of Medicaid and by requiring individuals who don’t have employer-provided health insurance to purchase it. There will be federal subsidies available to help some people with their premium costs, and those who don’t buy insurance will pay a penalty.

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Iowa Reserve unit to guard prisoners in CubaDAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — Roughly 130 members of an Iowa Army Reserve unit are being deployed to Cuba to help guard prisoners at Guantanamo Bay’s prison for about a year.

The Quad-City Times reports (http://bit.ly/1lILiFDhttp://bit.ly/1lILiFD ) family members gathered Saturday to say goodbye to the soldiers of the 339th Military Police Company. The unit left Sunday for a month of training in Texas before going to Cuba.

This will be the unit’s second time serving in Cuba. The Davenport-based unit has also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in the past.

Scott Carter says it will be difficult being apart from his wife and 12-year-old son. Carter is an Aurora, Ill., police officer.

Pfc. Daniel Moore of Freeport, Ill., will be away from his wife and 8-month-old daughter.

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Pets should be brought inside, protected in coldOMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Pet owners are being encouraged to bring their animals inside during the bitter cold snap.

Temperatures are predicted to fall to at least 15 degrees below zero Sunday night and Monday morning in Nebraska and Iowa. Then strong winds will make it feel 30-to-60 degrees below zero.

The Nebraska Humane Society says it’s best to bring pets inside during periods of extreme cold like this.

But if pets must remain outside, it’s important to make sure they have a solid structure to protect them with hay or straw inside for insulation.

Dogs also need constant access to water, so pet owners should use heated bowls during freezing weather.

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