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Indiana prepares to go another round with feds

Updated: March 19, 2013 6:41AM



INDIANAPOLIS — By turns, Indiana leaders have either chosen, begrudgingly, to work with Washington or fight it outright, and this year is no exception.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s fiery letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week is the latest salvo from a state that has spent recent years trying to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood, cracking down on illegal immigration and opposing President Barack Obama’s federal health care law.

The challenges have landed the state in court on more than one occasion and pose a dilemma for Republican leaders as they determine when to fight and when to play along.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said the issue isn’t simply about Republican vs. Democrat.

“Look, nobody likes Washington,” said Pelath, D-Michigan City. “We all complain about Washington, but the fact of the matter is, we have to solve problems. Sometimes the problems are solved by arguing and agreeing to disagree. Sometimes the problems are solved by working together.”

Pence doesn’t appear inclined to work together on Obama’s health care law. He has refused to have the state set up a health care exchange under the law, and his letter to Sebelius last week left no doubt about his feelings toward expanding Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor.

Pence charged that Medicaid is a program fraught with the Big Three of outrage: “waste, fraud and abuse.”

“Medicaid is broken,” Pence wrote. “It has a well-documented history of substantial waste, fraud and abuse. It has failed to keep pace with private market innovations that have created efficiencies, controlled costs, and improved quality. It has done little to improve health outcomes and does not adequately reimburse providers. Its burdensome rules and unwieldy regulations do not allow states to effectively manage their programs.”

Then he asked her to approve a Medicaid expansion using Indiana’s health savings account program, the Healthy Indiana Plan.

He can only hope his request for a waiver allowing Indiana to use the plan to cover roughly 400,000 residents who would qualify under the federal expansion of coverage fares better than other recent battles.

Republicans in the General Assembly and former Gov. Mitch Daniels almost made Indiana the first state to defund Planned Parenthood, but a federal judge threw out the law. It’s now being appealed, but in the interim, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services threatened to withhold the state’s Medicaid funding if it enforced the measure.

Lawmakers also approved new limits on illegal immigration in 2011, placing the state again in federal court, only to have Attorney General Greg Zoeller abandon the lawsuit on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling on a similar law in Arizona. A group of conservative senators is now seeking legislation that would allow other parties to defend a state law if the state’s elected attorney decides against it.

Some lawmakers worry about the impact of the state’s stances. Pelath said he fears Pence’s move puts thousands of jobs at risks by playing politics with the Medicaid expansion.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, who’s no fan of the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, has been forced by tea party activists to explain just how anti-Washington he is this session.

Indiana activists, spurred by the California-based Tenth Amendment Center, have spent the last month attacking Long for bottling up legislation that seeks to “void” the federal health care law by deeming it unconstitutional. Long has repeatedly, and correctly, said that one state Legislature cannot find a federal law unconstitutional when the nation’s highest court has ruled otherwise.

Fighting back last week against charges that he is Indiana’s own Benedict Arnold, a traitor to his state and country, Long announced he would fight the health care law by trying to call a constitutional convention. It would require 33 other state Legislatures to join in opposition to the feds, but he said he believes that long-simmering angst is there.

Long, R-Fort Wayne, says he understands concerns that “state’s rights are being trampled, that the 10th amendment is in shambles right now.” But he says any effort to oppose the health care law needs to be done constitutionally.

It’s another Indiana battle to watch.



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