Hoosier views on state health care, education standards

Recent editorials from Indiana newspapers.

Posted on June 13, 2014 at 6:00 p.m.

This is encouraging.

Our governor, Mike Pence, has stepped away from the conservative dogma that generally limits him, to make meaningful, practical reform in the state's health-care plan for Hoosiers.

Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, introduced a couple of weeks ago by Pence, would bring coverage to 350,000 currently uncovered Hoosiers by coming into compliance with the demands of Medicaid and the federal Affordable Care Act.

Now in a public comment period, the plan will be sent to the feds at the end of the month for approval. ...

Twenty-six other states and the District of Columbia are expanding Medicaid under a Supreme Court ruling from two years ago that made such expansion optional.

The federal government would pay the full cost of HIP 2.0's expansion of medical care benefits through 2016. Afterward, the feds would shed 10 percent of the burden by 2020.

State money to support HIP 2.0 would come from the cigarette sales tax and a hospital assessment charge.

Pence's plan would offer HIP 2.0 to Hoosiers living at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That's about $33,000 or less annual income for a family of four. Those enrolling in the plan would be required to make contributions, but not much: $3-$25 a month.

HIP 2.0 participants above the poverty level who fail to make payments would risk losing coverage for as much as six months. Poverty-stricken HIP 2.0 participants who do not make monthly payments would have fewer benefits and co-pays.

Many, including this newspaper, have accused Pence in the past of adhering so strictly to his small-government principals that Hoosiers are denied federal benefits. Back when he was an Indiana congressman, for example, Pence refused to pursue "pork" projects that could have earmarked millions of dollars in federal funds for the Hoosier state.

But Pence's HIP 2.0 plan shows that he is coming around to a more practical point of view when it comes to using federal money for the benefit of Hoosiers.

While he may still be talking the ultra-coservative talk, HIP 2.0 suggests that Pence is now ready to walk the moderate walk to benefit the people of the state he is entrusted to govern.

— The Herald Bulletin, Anderson

Indiana this year changed federal K-12 standards and came up with its own version. Depending on who fields the question, the standards are rigorous and all our own (Gov. Mike Pence's take) or they are slightly masked and rebranded versions of what Indiana already had (so say many foes of federally preferred Common Core standards).

Either way, Indiana's standardized test, the ISTEP, apparently now doesn't meet federal muster, putting the screws to the Indiana Department of Education to come up with a new test that stacks up or the state risks losing the flexibility in how to spend some of its $200 million in federal school funding.

That was the message set before the State Board of Education in the past week, as flustered board members tried to grasp the consequences of a hastily prepared ISTEP test – something the state planned to have ready a year later, based on new standards – versus the lost control over millions of dollars in federal money.

The situation just peels back, in more ways than one, just how ridiculous things can get the farther away from the classroom control is established in education.

And depending on whom you trust most and trust least, there's something in this case for everyone.

Hate the federal hand in education? What's not to seethe about a federal thumb pushing down on a state that dared to buck the status quo, making cash threats and seemingly unimpressed by the prospects of a new order of stress on teachers and schools dealing with the nuts and bolts of a test revised on the fly.

Distrust state education leaders? Well, here you go. By coming up with a set of standards that stray just far enough from federal guidelines to qualify as new, Indiana buys itself a round of anxiety that everyone from the governor's office to the legislature to the Department of Education should have seen coming. Was it worth it? Did education get better in ways parents and students will be able to see? On both accounts: That's doubtful.

As state and federal officials have their standoff, classrooms face more tinkering and high-stakes games, all centered around tests that determine the futures of students, teachers and entire districts.

Who do the bureaucrats think they're helping here as they each try to mark territory miles from any classroom?

— Lafayette Journal & Courier

There was good news to report from the Indiana Republican Party Convention conducted last weekend in Fort Wayne. The GOP nominated three women to top its general election ballot in November. There isn’t much gender equity in Hoosier politics, so seeing these three rise to the top of the Republican ballot this year is refreshing.

But perhaps the best news is that Richard Mourdock, two-term state treasurer and unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate in 2012, will no longer hold public office at the end of this year. He’s being retired from the treasurer’s office by term limits, and Hoosiers will have ample reason to bid him good riddance when his day of departure finally arrives.

Mourdock, of course, will long be known as the Indiana politician who took a guaranteed GOP U.S. Senate seat and threw it away. His extremist views allowed him to defeat longtime Sen. Richard Lugar in a tea-party-fueled Republican primary. But those same views, and his undisciplined answer to a simple social-issue question in a statewide debate two weeks before the election, led him to a humiliating loss at the hands of moderate Democrat Joe Donnelly.

Mourdock put his lack of grace and judgment on display again at the recent GOP convention when, during a farewell speech to delegates, he invoked the ghost of Adolph Hitler when critiquing current federal economic and budgetary policy. He first noted that the U.S. was observing the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Nazi-controlled Europe. Then, in a strange analogy, he compared the rise of the Nazis in the wake of Germany’s economic struggles of the 1930s to conditions in America today.

“The truth is,” Mourdock said, “70 years later we are drifting toward the tides of another beachhead with the bankruptcy of America.”

While his awkward comments don’t rise to the same level of offensiveness as those posters of President Obama sporting a Hitler mustache often seen at tea party rallies, they are in poor taste and insensitive nonetheless. Hitler and his Nazi regime perpetrated one of the most horrendous acts of genocide in the history of the world. Comparing anything to Hitler and the Nazis during political discourse is just plain dumb.

It is worthwhile to note that even Mourdock’s friends in the Republican Party voiced dismay at the comments. Kelli Mitchell, the woman who works for Mourdock in the treasurer’s office and was nominated by the GOP to replace him as treasurer, was quoted by columnist Brian Howey as denouncing them. “I don't think comments of that sort are appropriate at any time,” Mitchell was quoted as saying.

We applaud Mitchell for the courage to stand against her boss’s comments. And we wish her well in her upcoming campaign.

Mitchell now joins Secretary of State Connie Lawson and Auditor Suzanne Crouch on the Republicans’ statewide ticket this fall. We hope each has learned a valuable political lesson from Mourdock’s history of intemperate remarks. Thankfully, it is they, not Mourdock, who represent the future of the Indiana GOP.

— The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute

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