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Not too late for state to do the right thing

Medicaid expansion aids economy as well as uninsured

This week, leaders in the Indiana House euthanized the biggest, boldest Hoosier jobs proposal of the 2013 session of the Indiana General Assembly.

The middle class and people trying to get into the middle class lost. Small businesses lost. And private employers lost an opportunity to start adding 30,000 taxpaying workers to their payrolls.

Instead, the expansion of Indiana health care services – an initiative that would have garnered bipartisan support – was slaughtered on the altar of national politics.

A health care measure has passed the Indiana Senate, but that legislation offers none of the advantages to be found through implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and it is unlikely the Senate plan would gain the federal approval needed to move forward.

I understand that many do not like President Obama, and it is not the purpose of this column to defend him. But the voters and the U.S. Supreme Court have spoken, and our state must move forward. Those voters are tired of lawmakers being against something just because the president was for it.

Look around us. Many other states led by governors who swore they would never take a dime from the Affordable Care Act have decided it is silly to just say no.

John Kasich in Ohio: “I can’t look at the disabled, I can’t look at the poor, I can’t look at the mentally ill, I can’t look at the addicted and think we ought to ignore them.” (Feb. 25)

Rick Snyder in Michigan: “This makes sense for the physical and fiscal health of Michigan.” (Feb. 6)

So in a spirit of cooperation, let us finally stop telling 440,000 Hoosiers that their only health care option is the emergency room.

Emergency rooms are chaotic and wildly expensive. And middle-class taxpayers and people who already have insurance cannot afford to keep forcing their fellow citizens into them.

Instead, it is time to let hospitals and health care providers hire the workers they will need to serve people outside the ER. Of course, more workers will be need to be paid. The savings come from healthier Hoosiers who will get regular health care a cheaper way.

Regrettably, those who continue to politicize Indiana’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act only highlight the costs they want others to see. They complain about Medicaid costs that are years into the future. Or they groan about phantom woodsmen who never got health care who might get it now.

By playing the political game, they fail to admit to the crippling costliness of the current system. They fail to trumpet the taxpayer savings that will come from cutting emergency room chaos. And they fail to mention that thousands of new, private-sector health care workers will pay taxes themselves.

Fortunately, it is not too late. Gov. Mike Pence and Republican leaders can follow the lead of Republican governors throughout the nation and start expanding health care services.

We know they will complain about it every step of the way.

It’s OK. If the job gets done, forgiveness will be within reach.

But if we delay any longer, the faces of the 440,000 uninsured workers are going to come into focus. And they will want to know why state leaders are sending them to the emergency room.

Rep. Scott Pelath of Michigan City is the House Democratic leader. He wrote this for Indiana newspapers.