Austin seeking committee to address Indiana health care costs

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Ken de la Bastide, The Herald Bulletin, Anderson, Ind.
·3 min read
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Mar. 26—ANDERSON — Four of the five area members of the Indiana General Assembly took part in the Third House on Thursday.

Lawmakers discussed topics including health care reform, the governor's emergency powers and the state budget during the forum sponsored by the Madison County Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters.

Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said a top issue is control of health care costs in Indiana.

"We need to look at all aspects of the health care delivery system," she said. "We need to start with the drug companies."

Austin said there are many steps between the drug manufacturers and the consumer.

"Everyone in the line is making a profit before it gets to the consumer," she said. "We need to look at market concentration and how little competition there is."

Austin said the three biggest insurance companies handle 72% of the claims.

She is hopeful that a two-year study committee will be named to determine what the state can do to lower costs.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said the key legislation to be considered by the Indiana Senate is the two-year state budget approved by the Indiana House.

"A priority for the Democrat caucus in the Senate is a pay raise for teachers and funding for public education," he said. "We will be making specific requests for the budget."

Lawmakers are also considering legislation that would limit the emergency powers of the governor in the future.

"The Republicans are seeking to curtail the governor's powers in a future emergency," Lanane said. "I don't think the governor did enough. Republicans don't think he did much."

Sen. Mike Gaskill, R-Pendleton, said the executive branch needs to have emergency powers to react quickly to an emergency.

He said Gov. Eric Holcomb enacted emergency powers during the pandemic a year ago with no input from the Legislature.

"Legislators should have a seat at the table" when it comes to extended emergency powers, Gaskill said.

Rep. Elizabeth Rowray, R-Yorktown, who serves on the House Ways & Means Committee, said the final recommendation made to the Senate is to raise the state's cigarette tax by 50 cents per pack.

A group of Indiana health organizations was pushing for a $2 increase in the price of cigarettes.

"We heard everything in committee from no tax increase all the way to $5 per pack," she said. "The House finally settled on 50 cents."

The American Lung Association is urging Senators to raise the tax by $2 per pack.

"The primary goal of raising Indiana's cigarette tax is to lower smoking rates and improve the health of our state," Nick Torres, advocacy director for the American Lung Association in Indiana, said in a press release. "A 50-cent increase will not boost smoking cessation or provide a pricing barrier to keep kids away from tobacco products, so we can't support it."

The last time Indiana raised the cigarette tax was in 2007. Indiana's cigarette tax is the lowest in the Midwest and 39th lowest nationally.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.