Legislature to focus on health care, education


The Indiana General Assembly is planning to tackle the issues of health care transparency, education and the age limit for smoking and vaping.

This year’s legislative session started today and will end in mid-March, which is considered a short session. The long session, which will be next year and includes the state budget, ends in late April.

One idea that will be tackled is the age requirement for smoking and vaping. Studies have shown a sharp increase in the number of people who are vaping, especially among teenagers, Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, noted.

“They are considering raising the age for vaping and smoking to 21,” she said. “That is going to be debated heavily in both chambers.”

How that bill is crafted is not yet certain. It will grapple with teen vaping, purchasing products and enforcement.

Health care costs will also be tackled, Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper said.

“There’s a thing called an all-payer database system in which hospitals have agreed to put their information in,” he said. “For different procedures within a hospital, it would aggregate the cost, so that you can compare the data hospital to hospital. The database would be a place where consumers can go to compare the cost of getting a procedure done here versus Evansville versus Washington versus Vincennes.”

Also, the General Assembly will look at encouraging insurance companies to give consumers in-network charges for a whole procedure if the consumer went to an in-network facility for the procedure.

“If you went to hospital to get a procedure done, many times the hospital may be in-network but you might have a radiologist, or a lab tech or lab work, or other things that are not in-network,” Messmer said. “This bill is looking to discourage insurance companies from sending you a bill for out-of-network charges when you went to an in-network provider for the service.”

The House and Senate may have different methods for achieving this, he said. The Senate is looking at requiring insurance companies to file for arbitration or mediation if they want to charge the consumer the out-of-network cost.

“It would be better for them to just give you the in-network coverage, instead of them paying the fee to file to get that issue settled,” he said.

The Senate will also look at getting some controls in place to make sure that reimbursement amounts independent pharmacies get are the same as what retail pharmacies receive.

“CVS has one of the largest pharmacy benefit manager programs, and they control what the independent pharmacies get reimbursed,” Messmer said. “They reimburse the independent pharmacies at a different rate than they reimburse their own retail outlet. So we want to get some controls in place so that the reimbursement is consistent across the retail market.”

The House will wrestle with education matters, after hearing from teachers across the state. The teachers converged on the Statehouse in November with their grievances.

“We’ll be looking at some of those issues that they’ve asked for,” State Rep. Shane Lindauer, R-Jasper said, “and ways we can come together on those issues.”

One matter will be not using iLearn scores in teacher and school evaluations. A bill will likely be introduced that will not allow the scores to affect teachers’ individual evaluations. Also, the scores will not have letter grades on which schools are judged.

“I agree with that, and I haven’t talked to anyone who doesn’t think that makes sense,” Lindauer said.

State Rep. Steve Bartels, R-Eckerty, also agrees.

“The intent was good natured to have school scores evaluate teachers. But if I teach history and that’s not on the test, but my personal evaluation is determined by that test score,” he said. “That’s not fair to the teacher.”

Instead of having a letter grade to judge the schools, legislators are looking at having scores be on a dashboard that anybody can view. “So there’s the transparency,” Bartels said. “If someone wants to compare school districts, they can do that.”

Bartels and Lindauer said they prefer evaluations not to be done by the state.

“Let this evaluation process go back to local communities,” Bartels said. “The state needs to step back. We don’t go down [into school districts] to get to know these teachers. I’m a big supporter of bringing that back to the local level.”

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