Indiana can rightly claim its healthy tax reserves, which Gov. Eric Holcomb did in his State of the State address last week. But the more encouraging message was a nod to healthy Hoosiers.
COVID-19 precautions upended the usual pomp and circumstance of the annual address, moving it from the stately chambers of the Indiana House to a recorded session in a studio. Holcomb took advantage of the setting to emphasize the continued importance of practicing “safety first” and to recognize the state's losses – the more than 9,000 Hoosiers who have died from the coronavirus since March.
He also expressed pride in the Indiana State Department of Health, noting its success in scheduling or administering more than 335,000 vaccines to Hoosiers 70 and older. The better news for older Hoosiers, however, was his prominent call for a managed care system, which would help families access the resources they need to keep aging residents in the home setting they would prefer instead of pushing them to an institutional setting.
“Now is the time to put this effort in place, including a managed care system similar to the ones 25 other states are using to integrate care across the entire spectrum to make it easier for families to navigate and drive outcomes in a transparent and accountable way,” Holcomb said.
It's an important call to move away from nursing home care. An investigation by the Indianapolis Star last year revealed indefensible problems with the quality and funding of Indiana nursing homes.
The governor also noted sorely needed improvements in Indiana's infant mortality rate, including efforts to connect mothers with guidance and support during pregnancy and after giving birth. He called on the legislature to pass a pregnancy accommodations bill.
“Women make up over half of Indiana's workforce and should expect reasonable accommodations at their workplace, which often comes at little or no cost to an employer,” Holcomb said.
There was also a mention of plans for an interactive, online database for information on the state's housing market. Access to safe, affordable housing is as much of a health issue as access to medical care. Directly acknowledging Indiana's dismal record on eviction rates would put pressure on the General Assembly to pass more tenant-friendly legislation, but the governor's attention to the problem is a welcome first step.
Holcomb's boldest initiative looks to be his “Next Level Regional Recovery” program. It would seemingly build on the Regional Cities initiative in urging collaboration for quality-of-place improvements, economic development and workforce development programs. Its launch is contingent on continuing improvement of the state's fiscal position, but it could help Hoosiers even more if it emphasized improved health incomes. Indiana's dismal standing – next to last in per-capita spending on public health – demands greater investment in health.
The governor failed Tuesday to mention the proposed increase in Indiana's cigarette tax rate, which is sorely needed to drive down the number of adult smokers and to discourage another generation of smokers. His public endorsement of a rate hike in the State of the State address would have gone far to make it happen.
Overall, however, Holcomb did a sound job in reminding us Hoosiers' health matters every bit as much as a healthy bottom line.