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State leaders positive about public health funding debate, despite lawmakers balking at price tag

Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box gives a speech during an infant mortality conference. Box is a White woman with blonde hair. She is wearing glasses and a fuchsia jacket.
Brandon Smith
IPB News
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box has been helping lead discussions with state lawmakers on the governor's Public Health Commission's recommendation for increased public health funding.

State leaders want lawmakers to make a significant investment in improving public health in the 2023 session.

Yet even as some Republican legislative leaders are already balking at the price tag, Gov. Eric Holcomb and State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box say they’re happy with how conversations are going.

The governor’s Public Health Commission recommended spending $240 million more a year on the public health system. Box said she’s not surprised lawmakers are hesitating when hearing that number.

“But we have fallen very, very behind," Box said. "And in order to try to get back on an even playing field, we really need to invest some significant money.”

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Holcomb stresses that the proposal relies on local buy-in – public health departments have to agree to scale up their efforts if they take the increased funding.

“This is in an effort to support that – government closer to you – and you’ve got to be involved from a local perspective, as well, and hold them accountable,” Holcomb said.

Box's latest proposal to lawmakers would see the state increase public health funding by $120 million in the first year of the new budget and $227 million in the second year.

READ MORE: Hospitals, insurers cast blame amid high health care costs debate

Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee Chair Travis Holdman (R-Markle) said recently he has an idea for where lawmakers might find the money for such an increase: not-for-profit hospitals.

"Hospitals have continued to increase their unrestricted investment accounts on Wall Street every year," Holdman said. "What are they doing to return the community benefit that they pledged to provide because of their not-for-profit status ... what are the things that can be done from a public service standpoint, instead of just putting their name on a stadium or their name on the local YMCA?"

The budget-writing session begins in January.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.