Two of the state's top Republican lawmakers said Tuesday that they would like to see the federal government sign off on an expansion of Medicaid through the state's health care plan for low-income residents, but they added that they have little idea how soon that could happen.
U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon and state Rep. Tim Brown of Crawfordsville, who are both physicians, said they would like to see the Department of Health and Human Services approve the expansion being sought by Gov. Mike Pence through the Healthy Indiana Plan. They also said they would like to see the federal government be more flexible in how it lets states use Medicaid money.
The two made their comments at the Statehouse during part of a statewide tour.
Pence secured a one-year extension of the state program last year. But the bigger question is whether the state will be allowed to expand coverage for those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
"We continue to have regular, productive discussions with HHS on an expansion of the Healthy Indiana Plan with an eye toward an updated waiver request by the State in the near future," Pence communications director Christy Denault said.
Indiana is one of many Republican-led states that have opted against expanding traditional Medicaid under the federal health reform law. Bucshon, who represents the 8th District, said such an expansion leaves states on the hook for major costs in the future.
"I'm glad the governor's office is still in negotiations with the federal government on the Healthy Indiana Plan. I was a part of that during Gov. (Mitch) Daniels' tenure and still am, and we'll see where that goes," Bucshon said. He added the departure of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius could work in the state's favor.
"I think with Ms. Sebelius gone, maybe the next secretary will have more of an open mind," he said.
The expanded state-run plan would cost the state about the same as using Medicaid, but Republican leaders argue the state plan promotes personal responsibility.
Democrats have been roundly critical of the Republican efforts, dubbing Indiana an "island of the uninsured" because neighboring states such as Ohio and Illinois accepted the Medicaid expansion.
Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said that Republican inaction on expanding health care coverage is costing the creation of tens of thousands of jobs and coverage for as many as 400,000 working Hoosiers.
"Let's quit playing politics with the issue of Hoosiers' health and get to work on creating a framework to expand coverage today," Lanane said.