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CONTACT: Patricia Harris
283 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-8037

Release: Immediate

UI nursing student to combine nursing, politics this summer in Washington, D.C.

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A University of Iowa College of Nursing student will spend the summer combining her nursing skills and knowledge with an interest in politics when she assists staffers in Sen. Charles Grassley's office with their work on aging issues and health care.

Teresa Bissen, a 22-year-old UI senior from Defiance, Iowa, will spend six weeks in Grassley's office starting in late June. She will be a legislative assistant in the office, focusing her efforts on the work Grassley and his staff do for the Senate Special Committee on Aging, of which he is chair. Bissen says she is particularly interested in issues affecting health care availability for the mentally ill and the aging.

Iowa has one of the highest levels of senior citizens in the country, many of them living in rural areas, where health care reimbursements from plans like Medicare tend to be lower than in urban ones. That's because Medicare rates are based on labor and other costs, which are assumed to be less in rural areas. Bissen, however, believes that this is often a misconception. For example, she says, people in rural areas often need more transportation for longer distances than their urban counterparts.

The disparity of payment levels between urban and rural areas is one reason there is little or no managed care for Medicare in Iowa - there isn't enough money from the government to make it attractive to health maintenance organizations to offer plans.

Bissen says she wants to learn about politics during her time in Washington and to examine how nurses can work for political change in areas like Medicare and Medicaid reform.

"I hope to get a feel for the whole political process and how it affects health care and to examine how nursing fits in to the process," she says. "I want to see how the mechanisms work, how to get the ball rolling."

While at the National Student Nurses' Association conference in Phoenix this spring, Bissen drafted a measure supporting the implementation of the Domenici-Wellstone Mental Illness Partial-Parity Bill. The bill mandates that insurers with mental health coverage equalize the annual and lifetime payment caps for mental illness with those for other illnesses. Before passage of the law in September 1996, some insurers had lower payment caps for mental illnesses than for other ailments. The law will go into effect January 1, 1998.

Bissen became interested in mental health issues while she was being taught by Rose Marie Friedrich, a College of Nursing instructor who is active in the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Bissen, who will graduate from the UI in December, hopes to find a post-graduation position that will allow her to continue the work she will start this summer.