During a Thursday visit to the Quad-Cities, the Iowa director of public health ticked off a host of changes expected in the public health arena that stem from the nation’s new Affordable Care Act.

The law approved by Congress in the spring will change how medical care is considered by the public, especially those who  do not have health insurance coverage, Tom Newton said. 

Newton, who heads the Iowa Department of Public Health, was in Davenport for the monthly meeting of the Scott County Board of Health.

The session was the last one for Larry Barker, the administrator of the county health department for  34 years. It was the first board meeting for his replacement, Edward Rivers, who was chosen to fill the post in July after 24 years working in the public health field in North Carolina.

Iowa is well-placed to implement the new requirements of health-care reform, Newton said, citing moves made by the state over the past three years. Impacts seen on the local level include an expansion of the Iowa Cares program for low-income adults. The program previously required that low-income adults get care in Iowa City or Des Moines, but two pilot projects in north and western Iowa have added additional access points, Newton added. 

Area health-care providers, including Genesis Health System, have sought such an expansion for years. Newton said such projects will serve as a bridge to 2014, when insurance coverage is mandated across the country.

Iowa’s 99 county health departments will be encouraged to collaborate in districts and regions, the director said. He expects the actions will occur mainly in small and medium-sized counties and will be based on sharing agreements used around the state for years. Options include teleconferencing techniques and electronic communications.

The state will receive 

$1 million to establish what the new insurance exchange system looks like in 2014, Newton said. The state also could defer to the federal government to design its exchange, but he prefers to keep control in Iowa.

“We will set up our own parameters. We will make the design, keeping local needs in view,” he said. 

There are many people who do not understand what public health does, Newton said. Counties need to discuss ramifications of the reform law, such as what happens to local programs designed for individuals who do not have health insurance.

“It’s a very exciting time in public health right now,” he added.


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