By Tim Grimes
INDIANAPOLIS - The Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would have Indiana Gov. Mike Pence pursue an expansion of health care for the poor, but not in the way prescribed by the U.S. Congress.
Senate Bill 551 would have Pence's administration follow through with its already-in-motion efforts to ask the federal government to send Indiana a block grant that would give the state flexibility in the way it expands health care to 400,000 more Hoosiers.
The bill asks Pence to negotiate for federal approval to expand the health savings account-based Healthy Indiana Plan, or something similar to it, to all Hoosiers who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level as a substitute to the Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law.
"The Healthy Indiana Plan provides low-income Hoosiers with access to health care in a way that promotes personal responsibility and financial accountability," said the bill's author, Senate Health and Provider Services Chairwoman Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis. "It has worked extremely well in our state for several years now, and I would like to see it continue."
Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden, said she and other Democrats want to expand Medicaid through the program traditional program, taking advantage of the federal government's 100 percent funding for the first three years of the expansion.
Tallian said there were a lot of questions about the bill, such as the fate of people on the waiting list for HIP and what a federally-approved version of HIP would look like.
"Early on in this session, our caucus called for a discussion and I think that we've had that. And I think that we are still in the middle of that," Tallian said.
The House worked on a bill similar to SB 551, but didn't vote on it after Gov. Mike Pence pressured Republicans to drop it. The House will take up the Senate plan instead.
"We're all just a little more comfortable with the Senate version," Bosma said.
Republican legislators want to walk away from expanding Medicaid at all if federal officials say "no" to the expansion through HIP and have rejected Democratic efforts to include a backup plan. The bill passed the Senate 44-6.
Tim Grimes is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.