DES MOINES – Gov. Terry Branstad signaled Tuesday that he believes the issue of expanding health care coverage for low-income Iowans is too complicated to fix now and he favors calling lawmakers back into special session later this year once a bipartisan accord can be forged in the split-control Legislature.
“We have a lot of work to do to iron out the differences between the House and the Senate and between my office and the Senate on that issue,” Branstad said during his monthly WHO-AM radio call-in show Tuesday evening.
The governor said there has been talk of ending the regular session without resolving the health-care issue to allow time to work out the differences since the deadlines for getting a federal waiver on his proposed Healthy Iowa expansion of the Iowa Care program doesn’t arrive until later this year.
“I think it may just take a little longer,” Branstad told his call-in audience. “Certainly I think we can agree to bring them back once we get that worked out. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for them to hang around until we have the issue resolved. It is a complicated issue.”
Legislative Republicans expressed a desire to move ahead with the state budget, education reform and property tax relief resolutions in the waning days of the regular 2013 session, but looking to a special session as a way to buy more time to negotiate a compromise arrangement.
The governor’s approach that was approved by the GOP-led Iowa House would provide health care coverage to an additional 89,000 Iowans earning less than $11,000 annually but would require some buy-in to promote healthy lifestyles, wellness and personal ownership. Legislative Democrats favor expanding Medicaid to an estimated 150,000 Iowans with yearly incomes of up to $15,300.
“It’s more important that we arrive at the right answer than we arrive at a quick answer,” said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha. “We’re going to work on trying to finish things up, but it’s more important that we’ve got it right.
Democrats were adamant Tuesday that the 2013 regular session not adjourn without an agreement to expand health care coverage to needy Iowans.
“As far as I’m concerned, there won’t be a special session,” said Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines. “All of our work will be done here now, it has to be completed.
“We see daylight between the Republicans and the governor’s plan. His financing is unacceptable to Republicans and to local governments and to local mental health agencies and providers,” he added. “To think we can come back into special session and have an agreement is pretty unrealistic and pretty naïve.”
Earlier Tuesday, leaders in the split-control Legislature agreed to an overall spending level of nearly $6.483 billion for the fiscal 2014 budget year – a key development that should begin the process of shutting down the 2013 legislative session.
During his radio show, Branstad called the budget total “pretty realistic” but said it will be important the way details are worked out as the spending bills make their way to his desk.
“We’re hopeful that we’re getting close,” the governor said. “I’m cautiously optimistic that it could all come together; maybe it could even be completed this week. That would be wonderful. I think a lot of people are anxious to see the Legislature go home.
“It’s my understanding the property tax report conference committee report is being drafted as we speak and the education reform is very close,” he added. “Those are big issues that we’ve been working on for three years. I’m very optimistic that they can be approved as well as the budget.”