February 22, 2013

Church supports health coverage expansion for low-income residents

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

Improved access to health care coverage for low-income Indiana residents is not only the right thing to do morally, but a new study shows could likely be very good for state economic development.

Two Indiana legislative panels approved legislation to expand health care coverage for low-income residents in the House and Senate on Feb. 13. The proposed legislation closes a gap between coverage made available by the federal government in the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid eligibility provided by Indiana. The Church supports the expansion.

Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), who serves as the official spokesman on state and federal issues for the Church in Indiana, testified in support of health care expansion before both the House and Senate panels.

“The Church’s approach to health care is shaped by a fundamental principle that every person has a right to adequate health care. This right comes from the fact that every human being has dignity because human life is created in the image of God,” Tebbe said. “Since 1917, the Catholic bishops in the United State have consistently called for access to quality and affordable life-giving health care for all in a manner that respects life and religious freedom.

“As universal as our Church is, Pope Benedict XVI even talked about the importance of health care at a meeting with health care workers, and indicated that good health care needs to be defended and achieved for all people, not just for those who can afford it.

“The Indiana Catholic Conference supports making health care more readily available and affordable to all Hoosiers,” Tebbe continued. “At its core, health care choices are not just political, or economic, or technical, they are really a moral choice. They are about life and death. Because of the moral imperative, we support the author and others who are seeking to provide for these families and individuals. We ask all legislators to work together for a solution.”

Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, author of House Bill 1591 to expand health care coverage, said, “House Bill 1591 is an attempt to cover hundreds of thousands of more Hoosiers in a responsible fashion. It is a proposal that raises expectations for accountability across the entire Indiana Medicaid program, and requires a cost-sharing for all folks who would be eligible under the expansion.

“Indiana has been at the forefront of innovation in Medicaid by seeking high-quality care, paired with an ongoing focus on cost savings while seeking to ensure program members understand the cost of the care they receive,” he added. “Personal responsibility is the cornerstone of Hoosier values, and that we should all have skin in the game when it comes to health care.”

Clere said the proposal takes the best ideas from programs the state has created so far and applies them to Medicaid members with the greatest need and also the highest costs.

A similar proposal, Senate Bill 551, authored by Senator Patricia L. Miller, R-Indianapolis, passed the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee, and was recommitted to Senate Appropriations. Both the House and Senate health care expansion measures received hours of testimony.

The Medicaid expansion proposals aim to cover low-income residents who have an estimated annual income between $5,000 and $35,000. Clere said the state has estimated there are between 300,000 to 500,000 uninsured people in this income category who would be helped by the health care coverage expansion proposal.

Tim Kennedy, representing the Indiana Hospital Association (IHA), testified in support of the expansion, calling the plan an “opportunity to bring taxes we are already paying to the federal government back to Indiana.”

A 2013 study conducted by the University of Nebraska’s Medical Center for Health Policy, commissioned by IHA, indicated a Medicaid expansion in Indiana could generate $3.4 billion in economic activity and finance 30,000 jobs for Indiana through the year 2020. These funds could result in at least $108 million in additional local and state tax revenue, officials said.

In addition to the ICC, David Sklar of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and Mike Oles III of the United Methodist Church of Indiana Conference supported the measure on moral grounds.

Representatives from the medical community also support the expansion. Dr. Aaron Carroll, associate professor of pediatrics and director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research at the I.U. School of Medicine, said he supports the expansion because research shows that Medicaid improves the health of uninsured people, and expansion allows medical providers to recoup some of their loss for unreimbursed medical care they provide.

Leaders from the business sector testified in support of the expansion including Mike Ripley of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

Gov. Mike Pence and Republican lawmakers have indicated they do not want to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act unless they can do so with their current Healthy Indiana Plan and Hoosier Healthwise programs developed in Indiana over the past several years, which provide member accountability and co-pays. To do so, Indiana must receive federal approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Indiana is awaiting federal approval.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. For more information about the Indiana Catholic Conference, log on to www.indianacc.org. )

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