Governor’s plan sends lifeline to rural hospitals

With the approval of the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 waiver after months of negotiations, Gov. Mike Pence and his administration are to be commended for their efforts to secure this innovative, affordable coverage program for those who need it most: our state’s working families.

With HIP, more than 350,000 additional Hoosiers will soon be on the path toward a healthier future.

While our focus is on enrolling our patients so that they can have improved access to preventive care and the security of coverage, there is no doubt that this announcement also sends a much-needed lifeline to Indiana’s safety net hospitals. As part of their commitment to their communities, these hospitals bear the significant financial burden of providing care to those without insurance. Hospitals, particularly in rural parts of Indiana, also serve as local economic anchors while also treating our society’s most vulnerable.

Indiana has 35 critical access hospitals, which are restricted to 25 beds or fewer. These hospitals are located in rural areas where access to health care providers is limited. Patients at these and other rural hospitals are often economically disadvantaged, elderly or disabled.

Given federal budget cuts, the amount of financial strain on these hospitals is even greater. According to a 2012 report from the Center for Rural Affairs, Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement together account for 60 percent of rural hospital revenues. Under the Affordable Care Act, however, steep Medicare payment cuts were imposed on hospitals in order to pay for expanded coverage — about $4 billion over 10 years.

Without a significant increase in coverage to offset these cuts now, we feared that Indiana could suffer from rural hospital closures like those seen in Georgia and other states. However, the financial stability that HIP 2.0 will now provide will prevent many of our members from having to eliminate services, or even worse, close their doors.

But there is still work to do as we must now turn to outreach and enrollment activities to connect our friends and neighbors with their new coverage options.

Hospitals are working closely with other community groups to reach uninsured Hoosiers who qualify to get them signed up. Anyone interested in HIP 2.0 can go to or call 1-877-GET-HIP-9 and see if they’re eligible based on their income and family size.

With a statewide network of more than 1,100 certified navigators standing by, qualified Hoosiers can get help enrolling in HIP immediately.

We sincerely thank Pence and all those at the local, state and federal level who had a hand in making HIP 2.0 a reality. Now that hundreds of thousands of lower-income, working Hoosiers in our great state of Indiana can get the coverage they desperately need, Indiana’s future just got a lot brighter.

Douglas J. Leonard is president of the Indiana Hospital Association and a former CEO of Columbus Regional Hospital.