INDIANAPOLIS – The end of the 2020 legislative session went down to the wire – with several key proposals dying and lawmakers approving a health care package whose impact is debatable at best.
Republicans lauded their work – they control both chambers – while Democrats pointed to shortcomings of the session, which ended at midnight Wednesday.
“While short sessions go fast, we got significant work done while continuing our track record of fiscal stability, which positions our state to face any unexpected challenges – including the current coronavirus outbreak,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a statement Thursday.
He declined to meet with reporters for a traditional post-session breakdown.
One thing that didn't occur was providing any clarity on what happens if Attorney General Curtis Hill receives a suspension of his law license.
He is awaiting possible punishment from the Indiana Supreme Court for allegedly groping four women at a work-related function in 2018. A hearing judge has recommended at least a 60-day suspension.
Indiana law requires an attorney general to be “duly licensed to practice law.” But nothing in law says what happens if he loses his license temporarily.
House Republicans put forth a plan that would make clear Hill would forfeit his license if suspended for more than 30 days. And he couldn't run again later this year.
Holcomb supported it. But Senate Republicans balked.
“We talked a lot about that. There is a need for some clarity there. No doubt about that,” said Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray.
He said his caucus talked “ad nauseum” about the issue but “at the end of the day there were concerns about it because we are in an election year right now ... It's a matter of respecting the political election process.”
House Speaker Todd Huston called that a missed opportunity.
And then there was health care – the issue many Republicans are calling the “big win” of the session.
Lawmakers approved House Bill 1004, which had several provisions. Its primary purpose was to address surprise out-of-network billing when a patient picks an in-network facility. Through the session, discussions centered on banning it or requiring the insurance company and the doctor charging the rate to mediate the dispute.
In the end the bill simply requires a good faith estimate of the cost five days before a procedure. A patient can agree to that cost or shop around for a better deal.
A separate bill set up an All-Payer Claims Database to collect health insurance claims for services and medications.
Sen. Justin Busch, R-Fort Wayne, heard both bills in committee and said they will provide “Hoosiers the ability to shop for the best-priced health care.”
While transparency is good, Democrats said nothing that was passed will do anything to actually reduce costs.
“Hoosiers know what they're paying and they can't afford it,” said Rep. Ryan Hatfield, D-Evansville. “We had an opportunity to drive down costs. Hoosiers want us to do more. We have failed them.”
House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne said his caucus offered amendments repeatedly to cap the price of insulin or investigate the importation of prescription drugs but Republicans blocked them all.
Bray conceded it is a first step but said discussions will continue over the summer on more wide-ranging ideas.
“I think it would have been nice to get a little more done with those health care costs but the session moves very quickly, and you want to make sure you're not making any mistakes,” he said. “So I would like to have been able to do a few more things there but at the end of the day I'm pretty proud of what we've gotten done.”