Pence & Zoeller Exchange on Immigration Challenge

Maureen Groppe has a story on some interesting wrangling between Gov. Pence and Attorney General Zoeller regarding Gov. Pence’s desire to get Indiana involved in litigation over President Obama’s executive order on immigration.

Instead of pursuing an action against the President over immigration as requested by Gov. Pence, Attorney General Zoeller has given consent to Gov. Pence to hire outside counsel. At issue seems to be IC 4-6-5-3 which I can’t quote because the General Assembly’s new online Indiana Code is terrible and only in PDF. But, it says that state agencies (defined broadly as including any instrumentality of the state) cannot hire outside counsel without consent of the Attorney General.

I wonder if it will be the Office of the Governor suing the President or if it will purport to be the State of Indiana bringing suit. If it’s the latter, I wonder what the basis would be for Gov. Pence to unilaterally bring suit against the President on behalf of Indiana while maintaining his ability to criticize the President for unilateral action on behalf of the United States.

Gov. Pence Seeks to Ennoble Hoosiers by Reducing Food Stamp Benefits

In another installment from the Economy as Morality Play Department, we have Gov. Pence making the moral case for cutting food stamps.

The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration announced last month that beginning in 2015, it would no longer request a waiver to the federal work requirement for certain people who use the SNAP program. Up to 65,000 single Hoosiers could lose food stamp benefits unless they are working 20 hours a week or attending job training.

Asked about whether this action targets poor people, Gov. Pence responded “I’m someone that believes there’s nothing more ennobling to a person than a job[.]” The article, however, reminds us that “there were 2 million people in the Midwest seeking jobs, but only about a million jobs available. And that’s not counting the thousands of people who are no longer counted as unemployed because they gave up looking for a job.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, the assumption here is that poor people need food stamps because they’re lazy and only if they have to choose between work and starvation will they get off their butts and get a job. That assumption is not, by and large, based on evidence. My sense is that people who cling to this world view do so in large part because it’s scary to acknowledge that the world is often uncontrollable and unfair; that you can be willing to work and still go hungry.

State forgoes $80 million pre-kindergarten grant opportunity

Chalkbeat and Matt Tully have articles reporting that the governor has chosen to drop out of an opportunity to get $80 million in pre-kindergarten education grant funding.

Tully reports that the State’s chances of getting the grant were very good:

Pence’s Family and Social Services Administration had worked with the state Department of Education and others on the grant since the federal government rejected a previous application last year. The state’s odds had greatly improved this year, as the federal government recently announced in the Federal Register that Indiana was among just two states, along with Arizona, that had qualified to apply for up to $20 million annually, for up to four years. The two states were labeled “category one” states; they were eligible to apply for substantially more money than the other 13 states.

The explanation from the Governor’s office was vague, citing concerns about getting involved unnecessarily with the federal government and generalities about “untested and unproven objectives in federal policy.” The cynical mind, however, immediately jumps to Gov. Pence’s presidential ambitions.

Even bearing in mind that our share of this federal money is coming out of our pockets anyway and will now be going to some other state instead, I think we can all agree that forgoing $80 million to improve the education of young Hoosiers is a small price to pay to ease the minds of Iowa and New Hampshire caucus and primary voters.

Elusive State Money in the News

I noticed some similarities between two stories involving availability of state money both of which are at least superficially peculiar given the State’s recent announcement of a $2 billion surplus. Perhaps someone with better knowledge of the state’s fiscal processes can tell me whether the cases are similar or not, and whether they have anything to do with the announced surplus.

The first story has to do with a story by Niki Kelley in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette concerning the availability of State money to combat domestic violence. The Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence says the coalition has had to fight with the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute to get all the money that is appropriated to it.

Indiana Criminal Justice Institute spokesman Gary Abel [confirmed] that $344,000 of funding for the domestic violence prevention and treatment program was reverted to aid the state’s bottom line at the end of fiscal year 2014 in June.

All agencies were told by [Governor] Pence’s Indiana Office of Management and Budget to revert money – or not spend everything appropriated.

Doing the math, in the ICJI’s case, the bulk of the $500,000 it reverted must have come from the domestic violence program. “Abel said the money was reverted because there was no plan submitted on how to use it.” So, the State’s explanation is that the money was there but it’s the Coalition’s fault for not submitting a plan for spending the money.

The other story I saw was by Ron Wilkins of the Lafayette Journal & Courier and had to do with a road project in West Lafayette to reconstruct Happy Hollow Road. (Disclosure: this is a road I drive nearly every day to work). The reconstruction was scheduled to begin today but the Indiana Department of Transportation stopped the project because it reportedly ran out of money for Fiscal Year 2014. According to the City Engineer, INDOT was supposed to have obligated FY2014 funds for the Happy Hollow project.

INDOT has apparently said that the funds were obligated but “the purchase order was not written” and funding was withheld. “INDOT has said once they see a plan for the balances, they’ll release the money.”

The money at issue here seems to be federal road funds that are overseen by the State. So I’m not sure that this money would play into the State surplus claims one way or the other. But, I guess I was struck by two stories in the same day that had the State blaming a failure to release funds on the intended recipient’s alleged failure to submit paperwork.

Indiana Medicaid No Longer Covers Early Elective Births

Niki Kelly, writing for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, reports that Indiana’s Medicaid program will no longer pay for early elective births. The rationale is that babies born early or small are at higher risk during their first year.

The Family and Social Services Administration – which oversees the low-income health program – said about 15 births a month might be affected.

Early elective births prior to 39 weeks’ gestation, such as planned inductions or C-sections, can still occur if the birth is eligible under a list of approved medical indications or occurs naturally.

Seems like I’m missing something in translation. Medically necessary early births are still covered. Seems odd that women would be choosing early elective births that were medically unnecessary. Maybe there is a grey zone where the mothers feel the early birth is necessary but Medicaid isn’t going to pay? In any event, the statement by the Medicaid Director seems to have an element of chest puffing that looks out of place in a purely medical discussion:

“This action sends a strong and clear message that we will not tolerate dangerous and unnecessary early childbirths, which puts our newborns at risk and increases costs in Medicaid,” said Joe Moser, Indiana Medicaid Director.

Maybe it’s an abortion thing?

Executive Orders Making Guarantees to the NFL and NCAA

Governor Pence has issued Executive Orders 14-04 and 14-05 providing for cooperation with the NFL and the NCAA respectively.

The executive order concerning the NFL is in furtherance of efforts to land Super Bowl LII and provides a commitment that Indiana will supply such things public safety, fire, and street maintenance services at no cost to the NFL or the teams playing. The State will also actively protect the NFL’s intellectual property rights — or at least that’s how I read the bit about agreeing to “actively protect against unauthorized promotional activities” for a three week period surrounding the Super Bowl.

The executive order concerning the NCAA is to host, I gather, one of the Final Fours between 2017 and 2020, and it makes similar guarantees to the NCAA and teams participating in the Final Four.

Indiana Executive Order 13-21: Center for Education and Career Innovation (CECI)

On August 23, 2013, Governor Pence issued Executive Order 13-21 (pdf) which declared that the “Center for Education and Career Innovation” was created. It has a bunch of “Whereas” clauses, which are – in terms of legal effect – more or less background noise. The executory portion of the order comes after the part where Governor Pence says, “I now therefore order.” This order does the following:

1. Says that the CECI is established as a new state agency.
2. Says that CECI is responsible for “aligning, amplifying, and advancing” the work of Indiana’s public, private, and nonprofit educational entities.
3. Establishes the CECI fund.
4. Transfers “funds and other resources” of the Indiana State Board of Education, the Indiana Education Roundtable, the Indiana Career Council, and the Indiana Works Council to the CECI fund.
5. Purports to give the CECI the authority to enter into contracts with third parties.

I’m certainly not an expert on State government funding, but this order strikes me as usurping the role of the Indiana General Assembly. (Unless, for example the General Assembly gave him specific authority elsewhere to transfer these funds.)

For example, HB 1001-2013 legislates the following:

Total Operating Expense 3,010,716 3,010,716

The foregoing appropriations for the Indiana state board of education are for the academic standards project to distribute copies of the academic standards and provide teachers with curriculum frameworks; for special evaluation and research projects, including national and international assessments; and for state board administrative expenses. The above appropriation includes $60,000 each state fiscal year for the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy.

Can the Governor step in and just move that $3 million over to CECI? Seems sketchy.

Updated Dan Carden recently wrote an article describing some of the turmoil surrounding the creation of CECI. He reports that “CECI is funded by $5.8 million that was appropriated to the agencies it oversees” and that six of the sixteen CECI staffers make in excess of $100,000 per year.

Hayden on Indiana Health Care

Maureen Hayden had a good column on the state of Indiana Health Care. She notes that the Healthy Indiana Plan, touted by Gov. Pence as an adequate alternative to Medicaid expansion under the Obamacare reforms, serves only 37,000 Hoosiers (with a waiting list of 55,000); leaving out 300,000 who would have been covered if Medicaid had expanded as expected.

When asked about uninsured Hoosiers:

Pence’s response was to say there was a “broad range of services” available to uninsured Hoosiers, from public clinics to hospital charity care.

“Let’s make sure there is a distinction in the language between health insurance and health care,” he said. “Every person in this state has the ability, if they are struggling with illness, to walk into an emergency room and receive care.”

In most cases, the emergency room is a wasteful place to initiate care. “A stitch in time saves nine” and all of that. I have collected hundreds, possibly thousands, of emergency room bills over the years; and they are expensive with people ill-equipped to pay them — they couldn’t afford them at the time of service, and often enough, the health condition that sent them to the ER renders them less able to work. The collection rate is well under 100% meaning that the rest of us subsidize these services in any event.

It would make much more sense to have a rational funding mechanism where we subsidize these health services explicitly and thereby allow delivery of the services in places outside the ER where better health outcomes can be had for less money. Instead, we have this ad hoc system where the subsidies are more hidden and the most expensive, least effective delivery mechanism is used.

Hayden’s column concludes:

Pence is correct: There is a safety net for the ill and uninsured. But it’s a tattered one.
. . .
“We do have access, but the health of Hoosiers is not good,” Kelso said, before listing a litany of ills that include Indiana’s high rate of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and infant mortality (which is related to lack of access to pre- and post-natal care.)

The governor’s own health commissioner, Dr. William VanNess, recently noted that an infant born in Indiana has a higher rate of dying before its first birthday than almost anywhere else in the nation. Indiana now ranks 47th out of the 50 states in infant mortality.
. . .
“We’re down near the bottom. We’re right down there with Mississippi and Arkansas in the number of babies that are dying. Think about that.”

I guess I could insert a “pro-life” quip; but that would buy into the frame of that debate — when that debate is more properly seen as being about female sexuality.

Instead, Indiana’s hang up and resulting poor health probably has more to do with a deeply held fear that people might get something for nothing. Laziness is immoral; and economic well-being signifies moral rectitude. If we give people (who, by virtue of their poverty are demonstrably lazy) free healthcare, they will lack proper incentives to work. Or something like that. Consequently, we continue to embrace a system that is as inefficient as it is destructive to the health of Hoosiers.

James on Pence Response to Request for Police Assistance in Gary

Rich James, writing in the Northwest Indiana Times, has a column about the Pence administration’s recent response to Gary’s request for help from the State Police.

After the mayor asked Gov. Mike Pence last month to send state troopers to the city, the governor said he would direct state police Superintendent Douglas Carter to assess Gary’s needs.

Well, the Pence patrol met last week in Lowell.

Pence told the mayor Carter’s team “will assist you in reviewing your intelligence gathering, training, command structure, budget and staffing levels.”

Apparently the meeting did not include the Lake County Sheriff, a representative from Gary, the East Chicago PD or the Hammond PD. It did, however, include representatives from the Michigan City PD, the Marion County Sheriff and the Porter County Sheriff.

I can’t imagine if Mayor Dennis had asked for help for West Lafayette which prompted a meeting that didn’t include a representative from our city but did include someone from Muncie, Wayne County, and maybe Frankfort.James suggests that the result of this process will likely be an effort to force some square pegs into round holes.

Pence Administration’s Message on Obamacare Premiums: Fun with Averages

Late last week, I saw opponents of Obamacare pushing a story out of Indiana that said insurance premiums would spike 72% up to an average premium of $570/month. Not long later, I saw Aaron Carroll at the Incidental Economist cautioning against putting much stock in those numbers as we didn’t know much about what went into those averages.

Sarah Kliff, writing for the Washington Post Wonk Blog has a good explanation about why those numbers are misleading. We still don’t know what all is in those numbers, but it seems very likely that the expensive premiums in some Cadillac plans are pushing up the average and that the less generous plans are likely to have premiums that are in line with those of other states where the premium jumps don’t look all that notable.

The health-care law envisioned Americans having a choice of different levels of insurance coverage. Sick people, for example, might want to pay a higher premium for a health plan that would cover a greater chunk of their bills. Healthy individuals, conversely, could gravitate to a more bare-bones plan –- one that left them more financially vulnerable but also with a smaller premium.

These plans are categorized into metal levels. A “bronze plan,” for example, covers 60 percent of the average beneficiary’s bills and would likely have the lowest premium. A silver plan covers 70 percent, and a gold plan foots, on average, 80 percent of the bill. At the very top of the heap are platinum plans, which foot a hefty 90 percent of the average subscriber’s costs.

There’s some evidence to believe that the most important rates are the prices we should watch most closely. Those are likely the plans that buyers on the exchange will gravitate toward. We saw this in Massachusetts, where the vast majority of enrollees purchase a bronze or silver insurance plan.
. . .
We’ve seen in other states’ data that bronze plans and silver plans can have hugely different premiums. Here in the District, for example, CareFirst plans to charge a 27-year-old $172 for bronze coverage and $341 for a platinum plan.

Indiana’s $570 figure comes from squishing together all the filings –- every plan that is bronze, platinum or anywhere in between –- and coming up with one composite.

Tony Cook’s story for the Indianapolis Star reported the Pence administration’s side of things and had asked for a breakdown on the individual level plans. The deputy at the state Department of Insurance who had a political message ready to go bemoaning the fate of Hoosiers under Obamacare did not, however, have information about the different plan structure. Darn the luck.