Pence unveils Healthy Indiana Plan expansion

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Indiana is stepping up by offering an alternative to expanding Medicaid. Governor Mike Pence has denounced the Affordable Health Care Plan and refused to expand Medicaid. But on Thursday, he announced a proposal designed to assist low-income Hoosiers caught in the middle.

States like Indiana which chose not to expand Medicaid created a coverage gap. Many around the country were watching to see how Indiana would attempt to deal with it. Now we know.

"We are going to expand Healthy Indiana Plan because HIP works for Hoosiers," Gov. Mike Pence announced at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

Gov. Pence drew a line in the medical sand by refusing to expand Medicaid. Thursday he bridged that political chasm by announcing he wants to expand the HIP plan by 350,000.

It includes what the governor calls the first-of-its-kind Premium Assistance plan called HIP Link which helps employed low-income Hoosiers access employer health coverage and two Health Savings Account Plans; HIP Plus where enrollees pay a monthly premium anywhere from $3 to $25 a month for enhanced coverage; or HIP Basic which includes a co-pay for families living below 100% of the federal poverty level. That would mean a family of four living on $24,000 a year or less.

"I think a fundamental choice was made to try and cover people rather than to thumb our nose at Washington for our own sake. I am glad of that," Democratic State Representative Ed Delaney said after Thursday's announcement.

Democrats aren't the only ones pleased by this consumer health-driven proposal that is designed to let Hoosiers make their own choices.

"Do I need the brand-name drug or can I get the generic? Or they can call and say, 'What will this cost at the hospital?' and shop between hospitals and doctors or pharmacies or whatever," Doug Leonard the President of the Indiana Hospital Association said.

"It allows doctors to deliver the best care even all the way up to a heart transplant or lung transplant," Dr. Ann Gilbert, a psychiatrist who introduced the governor at his morning announcement.

Mark Gibson knows about that. He is one of the 40,000 Hoosiers already enrolled in HIP, which covered his heart surgery.

"With health problems, anything major or minor it will cover, and people who can't afford to go to the hospital or doctors, I think it will help them a lot," Gibson stated after he had a front row seat at the announcement courtesy of the governor.

The governor also scores political points by standing his ground on Medicaid while implementing a state-based alternative that is fully funded at no additional cost to taxpayers.

Of course, all of this still has to be approved by the federal government. The governor says the state will submit its proposal in June.

If Indiana does not get federal approval, one hospital executive says it's back to the drawing board.

How the plans compare:

President Barack Obama's health reform law called for expanding traditional Medicaid coverage to people below a certain income. The government would cover 90-100 percent of the costs.

Under Pence's plan, the first tier would receive very limited coverage at little or no cost. A higher level would include dental and vision coverage and would require the person covered to pay some money.

There are about 800,000 Hoosiers who don't have health insurance.