- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Munster Times. March 7, 2020.

Porter County commissioners shine on health insurance reform.

A plethora of positive government and community attributes continue to thrive in Porter County.

Many solid fiscal steps taken by the Porter County Board of Commissioners are no exception, particularly when analyzing reforms to county government employees’ health insurance.

Careful planning and negotiating by the commissioners has led to more than $5 million in taxpayer savings in about five years, just in terms of government employee health insurance coverage.



Much of it ties directly to a two-year contract commissioners forged with Franciscan in 2018, providing insured employees and their covered dependents free access to primary care at Franciscan clinics in Valparaiso and Portage at a cost of about $62 per employee per year to the county.

As part of the deal, county employees receive free routine medical care and free prescriptions from a list of 150 commonly prescribed medications.

And taxpayers have won big on the deal.

In its first year, the county saw nearly 60% usage of the clinic associated with the plan, which county attorney Scott McClure describes as the break-even point.

If usage increases to 80% of employees covered by the county’s health insurance, the county could save about $500,000.

Insurance consultant Tony Bontrager recently told commissioners that enrollment in the county’s plan increased slightly last year, and overall costs fell 15%.

“I’m ecstatic,” Commissioner Jeff Good said of the results.

As an architect of the savings, Good should be ecstatic.

So should Commissioner Laura Blaney, who noted current commissioners inherited a county employee health insurance plan that was costing taxpayers some $14 million per year.

That projected cost has now fallen below $9 million per year within about five years, Blaney said, all while adding valuable services to the employees.

The network of providers has expanded into Chicago, and in many cases employees can walk out of clinic visits with free prescription drugs. The participating clinics are working out wellness plans with employees, with an emphasis on preventing illness and bad health rather than waiting for it to transpire.

We expend a great deal of ink exposing shortcomings in the operation of local government in the Region.

What Porter County commissioners have done to revamp county employee health insurance, to the benefit of government workers and taxpayers, deserves ink for all the right reasons.

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The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. March 8, 2020.

Prudent to prep for crisis we’re hoping to avert.

It’s hard to find a news source not reporting on the expanding COVID-19 crisis. The emphasis is justified, but just worrying won’t solve anything, and panic will only add to the problem. Planning, communication, common sense and level-headed leadership – that’s what can get our community through whatever this coronavirus may have in store for us.

As local experts told community leaders at Memorial Coliseum Wednesday, what is known is unsettling. The virus appears to be highly contagious, and those who get it may be spreading it to others for several days before showing any symptoms. And COVID-19 is perhaps 15 times to 20 times more lethal than influenza, which annually kills 40,000 to 60,000 Americans. If as many people get COVID-19 as get the flu, many more are likely to die, they said.

Allen County Health Department officials want local businesses and residents to understand the seriousness of the situation and to begin to think about how they would cope with an epidemic locally. If there are widespread absences of workers who are ill or who must care for ailing family members, what needs to be done to keep the community’s basic functions going? We need to “keep the lights on, keep the food on the table and keep the community moving ahead,” as Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner, put it. Anyone already struggling may need even more help – the poor, the mentally ill, the elderly, who seem to be especially vulnerable to the virus. “Asking the questions that need to be asked might avert some panic if the worst occurred,” Health Department Administrator Mindy Waldron said.

But planning for a disaster doesn’t mean it will occur.

“Maybe it burns out,” McMahan said in an interview after the event. “We don’t really know how easily this thing is spreading.” Alarming as they’ve been, other disease outbreaks, including Ebola and previously discovered coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS, were contained before they became worldwide threats.

“Pandemics behave as unpredictably as the viruses that cause them,” McMahan said. And what we do know about this newly identified coronavirus may be different tomorrow. “The virus is mutating all the time.”

As Parkview Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Scott Steinecker told the group, the world’s health community has made remarkable progress in the nine weeks since the danger of the virus became known in the West. Widespread testing will increase understanding of the dimensions of the threat, and the development of treatments and vaccines is under way.

That more than 200 medical workers and students as well as other public and private leaders turned out for Wednesday’s program is in itself a reason for hope. “I decided on Friday to have the meeting,” McMahan said. “It is so amazing they were able to mobilize that fast. We tried to have people from every sector. … They showed up, and they stayed.”

Be vigilant and stay informed. Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly. Avoid unnecessary travel and stay home from work or school if you are sick. But needless anxiety can be harmful, too. We’ll get through this.

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The Anderson Herald Bulletin. March 8, 2020

A win for patients.

Hoosier consumers scored an important victory with passage of a bill aimed at lowering health care prices in Indiana.

House Bill 1004 grew out of a recent study comparing Indiana’s hospital prices with those in 24 other states.

The study by the RAND Corp. found that Indiana’s prices were nearly 30% higher than the 25-state average and twice as high as those in neighboring Michigan. According to one estimate, just lowering Indiana’s hospital prices to the national average would save the average Hoosier family $2,600 a year.

Last summer, a group calling itself Hoosiers for Affordable Healthcare assembled a team of experts to study the issue, and that discussion produced the bill that has now passed both houses of the Indiana General Assembly.

The measure seeks to take the mystery out of what everyone will admit is a complicated process.

The legislation will require Indiana’s hospitals and insurance companies to provide patients with understandable estimates of what a procedure will cost, and it seeks to eliminate the so-called surprise medical bills that sometimes pop up when a patient goes in for a routine medical procedure.

As a result, a patient getting a mammogram at an in-network hospital would no longer find herself with a bill from an out-of-network radiologist. Patients would be exempt from such charges unless they had agreed to the higher cost at least five days in advance of the procedure.

The bill does not, however, say who would be responsible for the difference. It leaves that to be sorted out by the hospitals and insurance companies.

This change could benefit thousands of Hoosiers. A recent study in the Journal of American Medicine concluded that as many as 1 in 5 insurance customers winds up with the sort of unexpected bills the legislation is designed to prevent.

At one point, the measure also included a provision saying that patients undergoing treatment at a physician’s office or clinic could not be billed at the same rate as those receiving that treatment in a hospital.

The Senate dropped that language, though, after hospitals insisted the requirement might force them to eliminate services, reduce staff and even shut down hospitals.

There is much left to be done to resolve the issues brought to light in this debate, and reform advocates admit there is plenty of blame to go around. Hospitals, insurance companies, the government and employers all contribute to the problem.

Still, the passage of this bill is an important milestone. It’s a victory worth celebrating.

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