The Journal Gazette
Thursday, June 15, 2017 1:00 am

Healthy change

After two years, benefits of HIP 2.0 are numerous

Beth Wrobel

As someone on the front lines delivering patient care to lower-income Hoosiers, I've seen firsthand the positive effects of the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0.

For those wondering why physicians, hospitals and other providers strongly support this program, here's a look through our eyes.

Before HIP 2.0, about 50 percent of patients at HealthLinc – the community health center I lead – were uninsured. These 8,000 individuals, mostly working people and their families, could get low-cost primary care with us. However, the vast majority could not afford preventive care, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, or medical tests needed when their symptoms pointed to possible disease.

Our doctors and nurses saw numerous people each month with late-stage illness and dangerous but avoidable complications.

Why hadn't they sought help sooner? Because they feared they might lose their homes because of the high price of care. Providers across Indiana were saying the same thing. Prior to HIP 2.0, 13 percent of Hoosiers lacked health insurance.

Many more were underinsured, using cheap health plans that didn't cover most of their medical needs.

Hospitals were straining under the burden of supplying free care to very sick people who simply couldn't pay.

Then Indiana approved HIP 2.0. Individuals with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty line – a mere $16,700 – could apply for affordable health coverage. Within two hours, HealthLinc had patients in line ready to sign up and pay their premiums. Our organization alone has enrolled more than 6,500 people, and the program serves nearly 400,000 statewide.

One thing is for sure, we don't hear complaints about the financial contributions required to participate. We only see relief that health care is finally available at a price that doesn't bankrupt working families.

The difference in patients' lives is enormous. For example, diabetics are seeing lower out-of-pocket costs for insulin. Being able to consistently manage their condition, they're experiencing fewer complications, which would require expensive hospital care.

Moreover, there are people who have a job today thanks to HIP 2.0.

In one case, access to vision care meant getting the glasses the patient needed to see clearly enough to work. HIP 2.0 is even linked to Indiana's Gateway program, which helps people prepare for and find employment. Our state has made the leap in understanding that wellness is the foundation for productivity and the way out of poverty for families.

Finally, HIP 2.0 has made cost-saving innovations possible. Among the improvements is the patient-centered medical home, an approach that focuses on coordinating care to drive better health outcomes. Medical professionals know it's best to treat the whole person. For instance, a tooth infection puts a pregnant woman at higher risk for a premature birth, so dental care is just as important as prenatal vitamins.

The good news is that comprehensive care that touches on all aspects of health is more effective and less costly in the long run. That makes it a win-win for patients and the health care system.

Reflecting on the two years since HIP 2.0 began, I am proud of how far Indiana has come. Many patients HealthLinc serves today could have died without this program. How reassuring that we Hoosiers didn't let that happen and decided instead to protect our neighbors with health insurance.

I, for one, cannot imagine taking even one step backward. Hopefully, our leaders in Indianapolis and Washington, D.C., see it the same way.

Beth Wrobel is CEO of HealthLinc, which operates community health centers in Mishawaka, Knox and Valparaiso.

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