Governor Pence standing firm on Medicaid, taxes

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With the first half of this year’s legislative session in the books, Governor Mike Pence took questions from reporters Wednesday, holding firm to his positions on taxes and Medicaid – an issue that’s now making news across the country with more states opting in as part of the new federal health care law.

A growing number of Republican governors have announced they’re willing to pursue the Medicaid expansion option, including the governors of Ohio and Michigan. But Governor Pence has rejected calls to expand traditional Medicaid coverage in Indiana. He’s instead requesting approval from the federal government to use the already-existing Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) as a means of funding the expanded Medicaid population.

“We are not pursuing an expansion of traditional Medicaid,” Gov. Pence told reporters on Wednesday. “I think Medicaid is a system that’s broken. It’s rife with waste, and even fraud.”

Republicans say the expansion could cost Indiana upwards of $2 billion, but another study from the Indiana Hospital Association put that number closer to $500 million.

“It may cost Indiana quite a bit more money to do it, and that’s why we need to be cautious about it,” said State Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

But Democrats say the issue needs to be explored.

“What’s Plan B, if they don’t accept this?” asked Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, of the governor’s HIP-waiver request. “Are all our federal tax dollars going to health care in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and we are again the island of the uninsured?”

“The more people that can get medical care, and medical insurance is better,” said Jasmine Washington, a college student, and Medicaid recipient. “I would like to see expansion.”

“I think that would be really good for the state of Indiana,” said Kathy Byers, from the National Association of Social Workers, Indiana chapter. “Otherwise what’s going to happen is our federal tax dollars will be going to other states to support their Medicaid expansion.”

Still, the money from Washington comes with a catch. Eventually, the state has to kick in 10 percent, and state officials worry those costs will only grow.

“I have two priorities, the health of the people of Indiana, and the fiscal health of our state,” said Pence, who just returned from Washington for a meeting of the National Governors Association.

Pence said he also spoke with fellow governors about the ongoing budget battle in Washington, and the impact the sequester could have on Indiana.

“Our administration is monitoring the progress of negotiations in Washington,” said Pence. “We are currently evaluating the impact of sequestration on any number of programs here in the Hoosier state.”

But there’s also the budget battle here in Indiana, with Governor Pence still trying to make the case for his 10 percent tax cut.

“I`m still disappointed that the House passed a budget that had significant increases in spending and not one cent of tax relief,” Pence said.

Still, Senate leaders said the tax cut was still a possibility depending on the state’s revenue report in April.

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