Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Look at us, governor

Fran Quigley

The public speaking trick of looking directly over the heads of your audience reportedly gives the illusion of eye contact without the speaker having to actually engage with folks in the room.I was reminded of this while watching Gov. Mitch Daniels' press conference the day after Congress passed health-care reform legislation.

The governor was addressing Indiana media, but it was clear he was looking over the heads of Hoosiers to gaze longingly at the Republican donors and pundits who are sizing up 2012 presidential hopefuls.

There was a nationwide surplus of hysterical reactions to the health-care legislation, but for sheer cynicism and callousness, our governor had few equals. Daniels announced steps to immediately suspend new enrollments in the Healthy Indiana Plan, known as HIP, which provides health insurance for the working poor. When asked why he would block access to HIP now when the new law would not open Medicaid to these Hoosiers until 2014, the governor reverted to sound bites criticizing reform. "There is no room for innovative programs like HIP, and I think that is a sad thing," he said.

In truth, the reality of HIP has never measured up to the puffery Daniels feeds to sympathetic national media.

Hoosiers who are offered even inadequate and unaffordable insurance through their jobs are summarily kicked off HIP, including my Muncie-area client who faced premiums that would swallow up 90 percent of her take-home pay. While fawning Daniels profiles in The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal suggested that HIP is covering as many as 130,000 Hoosiers, the program is actually capped currently at about a third of that, with tens of thousands of qualified applicants refused access.

Worse, my experience has been that HIP is managed with the same combination of indifference and incompetence that has been the hallmark of Daniels' failed privatization scheme for public benefits. The Wall Street Journal did not interview my clients sitting on HIP waiting lists, or the many who have been shuffled through mazes of contradictory bureaucracy in efforts to deny valid claims or push them off the HIP rolls.

Daniels' PR label for HIP is "innovative," a curious description for a dysfunctional program covering a fraction of those who in other states would qualify for Medicaid. The new health-care law remedies that inequity in 2014, when nationwide Medicaid access for the poor will expose Indiana's brutal accounting trick of balancing the state budget on the backs of sick and low-income Hoosiers.

In the meantime, HIP insurance would be better than nothing. When Daniels bars new enrollments in a fit of partisan pique, he wins his political points at the expense of uninsured Hoosiers forced to skip medication and doctor visits they cannot afford.

But these folks do not fund Washington political action committees for presidential candidates, and they can't vote in the New Hampshire primary. So, apparently, our governor has decided to direct his attentions above and beyond them.

Quigley is an attorney working on local and international poverty issues.

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