News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion Columns

March 1, 2014

Flashpoint: Everyone would benefit from responsibly expanding health coverage for Hoosiers

A 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 is facing the equivalent of an epidemic that threatens the health of our people: nearly 15 percent of our state’s population is without health insurance. Of the 860,000 Hoosiers at risk from a medical and economic disaster because they lack health insurance, more than half are children from low-income families.

But, we can do something now to prevent this epidemic.

Using $10.5 billion in matching funds from the federal government, Indiana can expand coverage to 300,000 uninsured Indiana residents — your friends and neighbors 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 existing high-paying jobs, as well as create new ones to serve a growing market of health care consumers.

Twenty-six other states have already chosen to expand coverage, including those bordering Indiana — Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois. We want to do this the Hoosier way, using a responsible and fiscally sound design based on the Healthy Indiana Plan, which currently provides health care benefits for 40,000 enrollees and is a proven success.

How would we pay for such an expansion? We already are. Each of us is paying for coverage expansion in the form of federal tax dollars. By agreeing to expand coverage, we can bring those tax dollars back into our state to fund coverage for 300,000 Indiana residents. As a result, the average family would save as much as $677 in annual premiums. Businesses would save substantial monies as well.

According to a 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 workforce — all factors that contribute to their bottom line.

Without coverage expansion, hospitals are bracing for dire times. As part of the Affordable Care Act, payment cuts at Indiana hospitals will total $3.8 billion over the next 10 years — cuts that would be offset if uninsured patients had access to health care coverage. Already strapped with providing $3 billion in uncompensated care for the uninsured every year, failure to expand coverage threatens the very survival of many hospitals, especially safety-net hospitals that serve patients in urban and rural and areas, resulting in limited access and a loss of medical innovation.

Closing hospitals or cutting back on services would also 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. If approved, coverage expansion would further generate $108 million in new state and local tax revenue. That kind of economic engine is what we need to move Indiana forward.

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. Indiana Hospital Association is optimistic about the progress achieved thus far between Gov. Mike Pence and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and their discussions 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.

For more information about expanding health care coverage in Indiana, and to find ways to get involved, visit ExpandINCoverage.org.

— Douglas J. Leonard, President Indiana Hospital Association

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