Health Care and Insurance and Government

NOTIONS: Will House protect Hoosier families?

January 30, 2006

Last fall, the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce invited members to an event called "Pancakes and Politics." The invitation said that Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma would preview the upcoming legislative session. Ever curious, I e- mailed the Chamber and said I'd attend.

When I arrived, I was puzzled. There were, indeed, pancakes. Bosma was working the crowd. But instead of signaling a legislative overview, the PowerPoint slide on the screen said we'd be hearing about the accomplishments and goals of the House Republican Campaign Committee.

During his talk on that topic, Bosma explained how Republicans had retaken the House majority in 2004 and outlined strategies for increasing their clout in 2006. Several times, he said it's vital for House Republicans to raise lots of money to counter Big Labor contributions to Democrats.

When he got to accomplishments and goals, Bosma outlined several. One was to "protect the family." Toward that end, Bosma said House Republicans have increased the number of Family Social Services Administration caseworkers, cracked down on methamphetamines and voted to ban gay marriages in Indiana.

At the end of his talk, Bosma took questions. The first was about health care: how expensive it is for individuals, business owners and state taxpayers; how many Hoosiers are left uninsured and what the House might do about that.

Bosma agreed that health care is, indeed, a big issue and a big cost, but said he wasn't sure what action the House might take. (In a Jan. 15 Indianapolis Star op-ed piece about legislative priorities, Bosma didn't mention health care or costs at all.)

After the event, I sent Bosma an e-mail. I suggested that if he really wants to protect Hoosier families, improve their health and reduce the cost of health care to them, their employers and state government, there's a pretty simple solution.

Tobacco, after all, sickens and kills far more Hoosiers than methamphetamines, child abuse, abortion and, for heaven's sake, gay and single parents-issues that have dominated recent Hoosier headlines and legislative agendas.

As a result, cracking down on smoking will do far more than any single legislative action to protect Hoosier families' health and tax burdens. So I asked the speaker if he'd introduce and support a statewide smoking ban.

A month later, Bosma sent me a letter. He said the "movement toward a smokefree Indiana has met heavy opposition at the state level but has found 'legs' locally."

He said that "At the state level, until a statewide ban can garner more support, we will continue to do what we can to discourage Hoosiers, young and old, from smoking."

He said that through "the proper funding of the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Fund and the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission and the use of the cigarette tax as a palatable means for bringing in revenue, we will focus on tackling this issue statewide, all the while affording local governments the right to respond to the demands of their varied constituencies."

Having lost my wife and the stepmother of my twin sons to cancer-by-secondhandsmoke, my Hoosier family certainly wasn't protected by anyone. And while I'd prefer that Indiana join the cities, counties, states and entire nations that have seen the light of fiscal and physical health and banned smoking in public places, I'm taking the speaker at his word.

Because Bosma has told me, in person at the Chamber event, that House Republicans want to protect Hoosier families; and because he's told me, in writing, that "we will continue to do what we can to discourage Hoosiers, young and old, from smoking," I'm counting on him and his fellow House Republicans to support two initiatives proposed by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to do just that.

In his "State of the State" address Jan. 12, the governor called for a 25-cent-perpack increase in Indiana's lowest-in-the-Midwest cigarette tax.

"It's a troublesome truth that ours is one of the least healthy states in America," Daniels said. "We weigh, drink and smoke too much, and exercise too little. So it's no accident that we have some of the highest health care costs anywhere, a barrier in the way of the new jobs we seek."

While individual smokers may stubbornly pay the piper to keep puffing, the governor is correct in saying, "All the evidence shows that the most effective way to deter young smokers is at the cash register."

A few days later, Daniels told WIBCAM 1070 that he'll "push for another measure to discourage smoking."

"The governor says he wants employers to be able to give health insurance discounts to nonsmokers," WIBC reported. "Currently, it's illegal to do that. Daniels says employers' hands should not be tied in encouraging wellness among employees."

As one of those employers, I say amen to that.

These opportunities to protect Hoosier families are now in your court, Mr. Speaker. It's time to fulfill your promise.



Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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