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Pence visits to promote jobs, health care

1Governor Mike Pence shakes hDeonte Crawley all other  Norfolk Southern workers before presentatiHammond May 29 2014. | Jim Karczewski/For

1Governor Mike Pence shakes the hand of Deonte Crawley and all of the other Norfolk Southern workers before the presentation in Hammond on May 29, 2014. | Jim Karczewski/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 1, 2014 6:10AM



Indiana Gov. Mike Pence crisscrossed Northwest Indiana on Thursday, a visit that revolved around planes, trains and health care.

Pence said the purpose of the visits aligned with his administration’s strategy of making Indiana a state that works — from new jobs and infrastructure to education and the proposed expansion of the Healthy Indiana medical insurance plan.

“We’ve been able to combine the best of the old and best of the new,” Pence told the crowd at a Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce event in Hammond.

He said a commitment to balanced budgets and $2 billion in reserves has allowed the state to make investments in infrastructure and education, while innovation is driving his proposal to expand Healthy Indiana to residents earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

“By 2016, I want more Hoosiers going to work in Indiana than ever before,” Pence said.

Pence’s first stop was aerospace manufacturer Alcoa’s LaPorte plant, where the company plans to create up to 329 new jobs by 2019. A $100 million investment will more than double the size of the plant by building a 320,000-square-foot addition to produce nickel-based superalloy jet engine parts.

Rail improvements

Along with officials from Norfolk Southern, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration, Pence marked the start of the $71.4 million Indiana Gateway Project at the Hammond/Whiting Amtrak station.

Federal funds will be used to reduce congestion on one of the busiest rail corridors in the United States as Amtrak and Norfolk Southern will construct a third rail line and make other major improvements along a 30-plus-mile stretch in Lake County.

“When it comes to the three guiding principles of Indiana infrastructure — taking care of what we have, finishing what we started and planning for the future — the Indiana Gateway project is a triple threat that underscores the importance of a multimodal transportation system capable of efficiently moving both people and freight,” Pence said. “With teamwork, we can lead Northwest Indiana and Indiana as a whole to be even better situated for the future.”

The project is expected to be completed by 2016.

State health plan

At his final stop, Pence discussed his Healthy Indiana 2.0 proposal before an audience of local medical professionals, students and educators at Indiana University Northwest.

The plan, which he unveiled two weeks ago, aims to replace traditional Medicaid in Indiana and expand coverage for non-disabled residents making up to $16,000 for individuals and $33,000 for a family of four. It would cover an estimated 350,000 Indiana residents who are now in the coverage gap.

The current version of Healthy Indiana provides coverage to about 42,000 residents who contribute to a health savings account and are encouraged to take advantage of preventive care.

Pence has never been a fan of Medicaid, which he said has become a bureaucratic and fiscal monstrosity. But the prospect of leaving $17 billion in federal funds on the table and an increasing number of Hoosiers without coverage made finding a solution necessary.

“We’re not so much talking about the future of health care but a better way,” the governor said. “I’ve long believed that a society is judged on how it deals with its most vulnerable but also the working people who are forgotten about.”

Healthy Indiana 2.0 features three components — HIPLink would provide premium support for residents to purchase coverage from their employers; HIPPlus would provide medical, dental and vision coverage for monthly payments to a health savings account ranging from $3 to $25; and HIPBasic would provide a bare-bones medical plan without HSA contributions and would require co-payment for all services.

The state will submit its request for a federal waiver for Healthy Indiana to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, along with a waiver to renew the current version of the program, at the end of June.

Required contributions have been a key snag in negotiations between the state and the federal governments, but Pence hopes the plan will pass muster.

In addition to federal funds, the program will be paid for with cigarette tax revenue and an increase to the Hospital Assessment Fee program.



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