Opinion and Viewpoint

LEONARD: Rooting for a Pence-Sebelius agreement

March 8, 2014

LeonardA medical epidemic is one of the worst scenarios a hospital can face—when a significant portion of the population is suddenly struck with a life-threatening illness.

Indiana faces the equivalent of an epidemic that threatens the health of our people: Nearly 15 percent of our state’s population is without health insurance. Approximately 860,000 Hoosiers are at risk from a medical and economic disaster because they lack health insurance.

But we can do something now to prevent this epidemic—if the negotiations between Gov. Mike Pence and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on coverage expansion are successful.

Using $10.5 billion in matching funds from the federal government, Indiana can expand coverage to 300,000 uninsured Indiana residents who have fallen into the dreaded coverage gap. They are the hard-working Hoosiers who earn too much income to qualify for traditional Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for tax credits and subsidies through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

When more Hoosiers have access to health care, we all benefit from lower premiums. And hospitals can protect high-paying jobs and create new ones to serve a growing market of health care consumers.

Twenty-six other states already have chosen to expand coverage, including those bordering Indiana—Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois.

We support doing this the Hoosier way, using a responsible and fiscally sound design based on the successful Healthy Indiana Plan, which provides health care benefits for 40,000 enrollees.

How would we pay for such an expansion? We already are through our federal tax dollars. But by agreeing to expand coverage, we can bring those dollars back to Indiana, funding coverage for our own residents. As a result, the average family would save as much as $677 in annual premiums.

Businesses would save substantial money, as well. According to a recent report by Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, large employers may be required to pay higher federal tax penalties in states that choose not to expand coverage—as high as $34 million here in Indiana.

On the other hand, if the plan to provide greater health care coverage is approved, employers can avoid such financial burdens, better predict health insurance expenses, and enjoy higher productivity from a healthier work force—all factors that contribute to their bottom line.

Without coverage expansion, hospitals are bracing for dire times. Already strapped with providing $3 billion in uncompensated care for the uninsured every year, Indiana’s failure to expand coverage threatens the very survival of many hospitals, especially safety-net hospitals that serve patients in urban and rural areas.

Closing hospitals or cutting back on services would be disastrous for the economic health of communities as well, where hospitals are one of the largest employers in many areas. Hospitals employ more than 120,000 Hoosier workers and generate more than $33 billion in state economic activity.

Clearly, the need to expand coverage in Indiana is great and the urgency is real for the 300,000 Hoosiers who deserve access to quality health care. The Indiana Hospital Association is optimistic about the progress achieved thus far between Pence and Sebelius on this important issue.

By responsibly expanding coverage to the uninsured, everyone benefits and Indiana can become a healthier, better place for all of us to live and work.•

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Leonard is president of the Indiana Hospital Association. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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