The Journal Gazette
Thursday, December 02, 2021 1:00 am

Holcomb extends health order

To ensure federal funds, vaccine access continue

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb on Wednesday extended the public health emergency another month – just as the first COVID-19 case linked to the new omicron variant was found in the U.S.

Holcomb had hoped to let the order expire but lawmakers did not pass into law three administrative changes he needed to ensure continued federal funding and access to the vaccine for kids.

First, Indiana is eligible to receive enhanced federal funding for Medicaid programs to help cover the increased costs of 500,000 Hoosiers who have enrolled in the programs because of the pandemic. So far, the state has received $972 million in enhanced funding, a news release said. The state would lose more than $175 million in future funding through March 2022 and about 250,000 Hoosiers would lose partial or full Medicaid coverage if the state public health emergency ends before the federal public health emergency.

The second issue allows 200,000 eligible households to receive an additional $95 per month in federal food assistance. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program emergency allotment provides nutrition for more than 600,000 Hoosiers, a news release said.

And lastly, the public health emergency allows the state health commissioner to serve as the statewide ordering physician for those who choose to be vaccinated, including children five and older. This offers easy access to vaccines through pharmacies, local health departments and other health facilities.

The latest order expires Dec. 31. Lawmakers don't return until Jan. 5.

“A continuation of the public health emergency and the executive order beyond Dec. 31, 2021, may be deemed necessary to preserve the specified provisions,” Holcomb's office said.

Cases have been spiking and hospitalizations rising even before the new omicron variant was identified.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday said the first U.S. case was identified in California in a person returning from South Africa on Nov. 22. The traveler was vaccinated and tested positive Monday.

Indiana Department of Health spokeswoman Megan Wade-Taxter said no cases of the omicron variant have been detected in Indiana.

The state continues to participate in the CDC's variant surveillance program but also conducts its own sequencing to identify variants.

“Our lab plans to begin testing positive specimens for the omicron variant soon,” she said.

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