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Daniels' healthcare posturing bad for Hoosiers

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It's been a long, ugly road we've traveled along the way to meaningful health care reform. But Obama's centerpiece legislation has finally passed, and health care reform is now the law of the land.

Too bad that long, ugly road seems only to have gotten uglier — even dangerous — given the derision, destruction and death threats we've seen materialize from the opposition. The road, one fears, could be headed for the edge of a cliff.

While congressional Republicans and Democrats attempt to outdo each other in political haymaking, Hoosiers and their elected leaders would do well not to fan the flames. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be happening.

Case in point is Governor Mitch Daniels' recent announcement that he would immediately suspend enrollment in the state’s Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP).

Give credit where it's due: HIP, a Daniels initiative, has benefited tens of thousands of struggling Hoosiers, and their children. Daniels is right to trumpet the emphasis on personal responsibility and the fiscal innovation built into the plan, which provides health savings accounts of $1,100 a year — paid for in part by the participant, but not in excess of 5% of gross household income. (Read more about the plan, here.) Emergency room coverage is also very generous, requiring co-pays of only $3 to $25, or 20% of total costs whichever is less.

According to a report by the Associated Press, HIP covered "24,906 adults with dependent children and 20,514 other adults" at the end of last month. That's a lot of people.

But HIP doesn't cover everyone. Far from it, in part because of federal rules that set a cap on how many people allowed to enroll. Many of those left over — some 1.2 million Hoosiers — are on Medicaid.

Hundreds of thousands more simply fall through the cracks. According to the state Family and Social Services Administration, some 561,000 Hoosiers don't have insurance, a number that has increased at rates exceeding the national average since 2000.

Little surprise, than, that as many as 40,000 adults are on the waiting list for HIP, per the AP report.

Clearly, once the federal plan goes into full effect in 2014, HIP will no longer be necessary, as current beneficiaries will simply move over to an expanded version of Medicaid, or, possibly, buy into an affordable insurance exchange. Estimates are that those already enrolled in HIP, plus hundreds of thousands of currently uninsured Hoosiers, will gain coverage.

But for Daniels to suspend HIP enrollment now — nearly four years in advance of Obamacare's full implementation — feels reactionary at best, and coldly political at worst. Immediate suspension certainly doesn't help Hoosiers by blocking health coverage to many who may be eligible. Even if the federal bill costs Indiana more, as Daniels fears (and indications are it won't), we wouldn't see those new costs for several years.

In the meantime, it's hard not to interpret this as a scare tactic. It may be good politics for a governor contemplating the national stage for 2012. But it needlessly stokes the fire here at home while possibly denying coverage to those who need it. Given the reckless tenor of the debate these days, that's the last thing we need.

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