INdiana Systemic Thinking

October 2, 2008

State Sen. Marvin Riegsecker Loses Cancer Battle

From the AP, via the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

State Sen. Marvin Riegsecker, a Goshen Republican who helped push statewide adoption of daylight saving time during his two decades in the Indiana General Assembly, died Tuesday at age 71.

Riegsecker died of cancer at the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis, where he was surrounded by his wife, Norma, and immediate family members, according to the Senate Republican caucus. Riegsecker was diagnosed this year with lymphoma and decided not to seek re-election.

Riegsecker, a retired pharmacist who was first elected to the Senate in 1988, was a longtime supporter of statewide daylight saving time and helped usher the contentious proposal through the legislature in 2005.

“I just want to get this over with,” Riegsecker said on the day when the daylight time bill won final approval. “I guarantee if it’s not over with, it will come back to haunt us again.”

Riegsecker represented Senate District 12, which covers most of Elkhart County in northern Indiana. He worked to protect consumers from counterfeit prescription drugs and championed causes such as providing services to those with developmental disabilities.

“In my four years in state government, I never met a kinder or more decent person than Marvin Riegsecker,” Gov. Mitch Daniels said. “Plus, he was brave in helping us tackle tough issues, always caring more about Indiana’s future than his own political future.”

Riegsecker was hospitalized for parts of the last legislative session.

“Legislative colleagues will always remember Sen. Riegsecker’s intelligence, passion and commitment,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne. “We will all miss Marvin greatly.”

The Blogmeister wishes Sen. Reigsecker’s family well in their time of sorrow.

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February 5, 2008

Bonney Announces Bid for Governor

From the Evansville Courier Press:

Steve Bonney is scheduled to announce in Indianapolis that he is running for governor in 2008 as an independent and is starting the process of collecting petitions to get onto the ballot.

Bonney, an Army veteran and self-employed organic farmer, was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit brought against the state in 2006. It challenged the constitutionality of the Major Moves lease of the northern Indiana toll road, a funding program that Gov. Mitch Daniels advocated.

Bonney’s lawsuit suffered a significant defeat in May 2006 when a St. Joseph County judge ruled the plaintiffs would have to post a $1.9 billion bond for the suit to go forward. They appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court but lost, effectively ending the litigation.

According to his campaign biography, Bonney has worked as a college teacher, farmer and president and executive director of Sustainable Earth, a not-for profit organization that promotes small, family farm agriculture in Indiana.

His campaign website is here.

February 4, 2008

Property Taxes: Where We’re At

Last week I was really confused as to what was going on in Indianapolis on the property tax situation.  I know, I could have gone over to the usually outdated in.gov site and read through the bills and found out for myself, but I was busy with other things.  Besides, I was getting a little frustrated with all the media reports of one side attaching this or that amendment to further their self appointed needs.  So, I sat back and let everything shake out.  Luckily, things aren’t as bad as what the media, and some bloggers, would have us believe. 

The South Bend Tribune has a good overview of where we are with the property tax reform situation.  Apparently both houses still have bills that, more or less, are in line with what the governor proposed at the beginning of the session.  Remember, last Wednesday was the last day for bills to be heard in their house of origin, so each house has now “traded” with the other.  Sure, there are some differences in the bills, but those will most likely be worked out in conference committee.  It is my view the final bills will look very close to what the governor proposed.  I say this because, despite all the posturing and amendments, legislators have to be in the position to say they passed property tax reform by the end of this session, and neither side wants it to look any different than what the governor proposed. 

Why, you ask?  Well they want to pass it so they can go home and say they did something.  So when your property tax bill arrives the month or so before the 2008 election, you’ll notice a difference.  If you don’t, legislators are going to have to look for new “part-time” jobs.  They also want the governor’s fingerprints all over this.  That way they have someone to blame if it goes wrong, or some get hurt.  And some will.  Certainly some communities will have to do some belt tightening, and all of us will pay more in sales tax, of which I’m sure we’ll hear some parts of the populace complain.  But overall the governor’s plan appears to be a good starting point.  What needs to happen is a continued dialogue and study of the issue, so we never ever end up in this situation again.  Unfortunately, I fear once this is passed, and the fervor dies down, reform will stop and the legislature will go back to band-aiding the mess until the next time they are forced to act.

One more thing, the property tax reform legislation is on the table because of overwhelming public support.  It affects everyone and just about everything.  If you support one of the issues some legislators are attempting to attach to the reform measures, but have nothing to do with property tax, that’s great, but this is not the legislation to attach your measure.  In fact it is probably doing your measure more harm by having it perceived as the thing that could kill tax reform, than the perceived possible benefit of your measure.  Please inform your leaders and members of the legislature of your feelings and have your measure addressed at a different time or in a different way.

January 30, 2008

Abused Children: Indiana’s Hmurovich

Yesterday a report was released by Prevent Child Abuse America.  It calls for more federal money to be made available for “Federal” foster care support and prevention services.  Sounds good.  Unfortunately, the CEO of the organization is none other than James Hmurovich.  Those who have been around the “welfare” system long enough remember he was in charge of a former incarnation of Family and Children’s Services, where he attempted to do the same thing.   What happened when he was in Indiana is prevention services went up, BUT they were used INSTEAD of foster care services.  The reason?  It is much more cost effective to keep children in their homes than in foster care.  This led to many dangerous situations and the calls for welfare reforms implemented by Governor Daniels.  Looks like Mr. Hmurovich wants to screw up the whole country.  Under his current proposal, he wants to “reward” states for decreasing the number of children in foster care.  Doesn’t look like he learned his lesson from screwing up Indiana.  Here is a summary of what the Indianapolis Star had to say:

January 25, 2008

IN Tax Reforms Move to Senate: Fry Only Dissenter

Here is a good story from the Indianapolis Star detailing the Property Tax Reforms the Governor ask for, and what made it through the House.  It is now on it’s way to Senate, where they will have until February 27, to vote on the bill.  I’m not going to quote anything here because the article does a good job of summarizing the changes and describing the process.

However, The South Bend Tribune quotes the only “nay” vote for the bill.  Here is what he/they had to say:

Rep. Craig Fry, D-Mishawaka, stood alone in his opposition to the bill, calling it “a fraud” and the biggest tax increase in the state’s history. Fry said the circuit breakers in the bill — which cap residential property taxes at 1 percent of a home’s assessed value, 2 percent for rentals, and 3 percent for businesses — are unconstitutional, and he expects court challenges from businesses. He said that 41 percent of homeowners currently pay less than 1 percent and that now all Hoosiers will be burdened with an increased sales tax.

“I think sales tax is very regressive and unfair to people of middle to lower incomes,” he said.

After the assessment system was restructured to a market value system under former Gov. Joe Kernan in 2002, Fry said people were promised tax reductions. Instead in St. Joseph County, property taxes doubled and in some cases quadrupled. He also blamed the repeal of the inventory tax for contributing to the problem, which hit Elkhart County hard because it shifted the property tax burden from businesses to homeowners.

Ryan Kitchell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Fry’s statements about the cap are incorrect and that the bill clearly offers tax cuts. He said for every dollar raised by the sales tax, at least two will be cut from property taxes. The 1 percent cap means only that homeowners won’t pay more than that, Kitchell said, and those paying less than 1 percent won’t start paying up to that amount. Kitchell said a study from the Legislative Services Agency shows that property taxes in St. Joseph County will decrease by an average of 39 percent in 2009. The inventory tax repeal was a ballot question in 2004, he said, and was something a majority of residents voted to repeal.

January 21, 2008

Anthem CEO Interviewed: Wants MORE Business

From the Indianapolis Star this morning comes an interview with the new CEO of Anthem.  Really nothing new (about Anthem) in the article and the reporter asked a lot of softball questions.  What was new, at least to the Blogmeister, is Anthem’s new buddy-buddy relationship with M-Plan who has apparently decided they cannot compete with Anthem and is giving them a large portion of their business. 

Say what you want about the government running a single payor health system, but it appears Anthem is well on their way to providing a private single payor health system, at least in Indiana.  As you read the quote from the story below, keep in mind WellPoint, Anthem’s parent company, according to CNN, made almost 57 billion dollars in 2006 (2007 isn’t available yet).

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Indiana is big and it’s getting bigger.

The healthinsurer, part of Indianapolis-based industry giant WellPoint, provides health benefits for roughly 2.5 million Hoosiers. Anthem controls about 60 percent of the commercial health insurance market statewide, according to an analysis by the American Medical Association.

Robert Hillman took the helm of that insurance behemoth when he was named president of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Indiana last October.

These are busy times at Anthem. The insurer has been working — under an endorsement agreement with M-Plan, a 125,000-member Indianapolis health maintenance organization that is shutting down — to gain new members. Anthem also is helping to run Indiana’s Healthy Indiana Plan, which provides coverage for low-income Hoosiers.

But Anthem also is involved in high-profile disputes with two physician practices over reimbursement rates and frequently is criticized for selling coverage that many say is simply unaffordable.

Hillman talked with The Star last week after his first few months leading Anthem in Indiana. This is an edited transcript of that conversation:

Question: What are your biggest priorities?

Answer: The primary goal is to make sure we fulfill our mission, which is to improve the lives of the people we serve and the health of our community. We’re looking at making sure that we continue to deliver products that provide value to our customers and that we’re participating in programs that are really improving the health and wellness not only of our members but also the community at large.

Q: Given Anthem’s large market share, where do you see the biggest potential for growth?
A: We still think the consumer- directed market is a big market opportunity for us. The other, obviously, is the uninsured market, particularly in the two- to 50- employee market, where you have really an alarming number of employers who are electing not to participate in the private health- care market and are dropping their health-care coverage.

It’s an opportunity to develop products that bring those folks back into the private payer market.

Q: How much business did Anthem capture from M-Plan shutting down its HMO business? Has the transition been smooth?

A: Well over 50 percent (accounting for 75,000 to 80,000 new Anthem members) of that business transitioned over from M-Plan.

The transition went really smoothly because the partnership with M-Plan, once they decided to exit the business, the cooperation on their part in working not only with our sales team but also our operations team, you couldn’t have asked for a better number.

Q: Indiana has roughly 750,000 people who are uninsured. As the state’s largest commercial health insurer, does Anthem share in the blame for the large number of people who find health coverage unaffordable and unattainable?

A: I don’t think there’s any single payer that’s to blame. We’re all operating in the system that we’re operating in, which is the private payer system, which is an employer-based system. No employer is required to offer health insurance, nor is any (insurer) required to offer health insurance.

What I do think we have an obligation to do, and it’s a challenge, is to try to develop products that are affordable and that provide value to employers and their employees so they want to participate in the private-payer system.

We have an obligation to cooperate whenever we can and however we can with government, like we have cooperated with Gov. Daniels and his Healthy Indiana program.

10% Laid Off At Dunn MHC

Calling it a “temporary reduction in force”, Dunn Mental Health Center is saying goodbye to 29 employees, according to the Indianapolis Star.  This accounts for almost 10% of their workforce.  Not wanting to sound partisean, here is the whole story from the Star.  Remember, she said it, I didnt.

Twenty-nine employees of Dunn Center Mental Health in Richmond have been laid off, said CEO Kay Whittington on Sunday.Whittington called the “temporary reduction in force” a result of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ proposed cuts in Medicaid and a bill that could limit how much Medicaid communal health centers may offer.
Dunn Center is comprised of a staff of more than 300.”We have had a temporary reduction in staff across (the) seven counties that we provide services to,” Whittington said.The Dunn Center is a Medicaid provider, and the state government has “dramatically reduced what (the center) can do for Medicaid rehabilitation options,” Whittington said.Gov. Mitch Daniels said in early January a new budget forecast that shows state revenue falling below predictions could lead to some cuts “in some of the entitlement programs like Medicaid.””It all relates to that,” Whittington said.Five of the 29 positions laid off are part-time and the rest are full-time, and Whittington said many of the employees were offered a transfer into other positions.

Whittington said she knows of other communal health centers in the state that have laid off workers.

“We’re all faced with the same thing,” she said. “You can’t wait for the ship to sink.”

Whittington will be available for further details about the situation today, she said.

“We wanted to make sure our staff had the weekend to think about (transferring).”

January 15, 2008

Big Insurance Chimes in on FW Smoking Ban

This opinion piece appeared in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette yesterday about the smoking ordinance (if you are for it), or ban (if you are against it), enacted last year in Fort Wayne.  There is some talk of repealing it, as the city council was shaken up during the last election cycle.  However, as of right now, no one is allowed to smoke in any public building and if one wants to smoke outside, they have to be eight (I think) feet away from the door.  This had some unintended consequences when some “exotic dancers” needed a break from work, but that’s another story.

Anyway, a physician working for an insurance company based in Fort Wayne wrote the opinion piece.  The Blogmeister won’t name him or his company, so as to not give them any free advertising here.  In the spirit of full disclosure, the Blogmeister is not a provider for this company.  Mostly because they refuse to pay for Therapists, Social Workers, or Counselors unless there is a physician, on staff, in the building, at all times.  Thus, increasing costs for their members and allowing them to charge more for their insurance.

For those unaccustomed to Insurance speak, I’ll translate.  Here are the important parts of the story:

…It would also be unreasonable to hop back and forth on an important issue like this. Those it affects have for the most part made necessary adjustments to it, and businesses that were on viable footing before the ban are not threatened by it.

Translation:  If a business allowed smoking before and was doing fine, but now can’t make payroll it wasn’t a big chain restaurant to whom we were trying to sell insurance.  That’s okay though, because we will go across the line to all the mom and pop restaurants where all the smoking business has gone and sell them insurance because now they can afford it with all the increased revenue.

I have spoken to a number of our customers (employers in Fort Wayne who purchase insurance from ***) and have found that an overwhelming majority of them are happy to have the ban in place.

Translation:  I’m a doctor at an insurance company and people lie to me all the time because if they tell me how they really feel they are afraid my company will jump their rates. 

 Anything we can do to help make Fort Wayne a less expensive place to employ and provide health insurance for people makes Fort Wayne a more attractive city in which to locate businesses, do business and create jobs.

Translation:  The more people who don’t get sick, but who we can continue to charge outrageous rates is great for my company and me! 

We need to encourage smokers to quit in order to help get costs down, and most employers understand that.

Translation:  The insurance company’s costs will go down, but thats all, notice I didn’t say employers costs will go down.  Less people will go to the doctor and we will still charge more and more for insurance.  In addition, that pesky low cost insurance program started by Governor Mitch Daniels… you know the one, funded with cigarette taxes… won’t be “viable” and will go down in a blaze of glory.  Then all those people will have to come to my company for their insurance.  They will have to pay our exorbitant rates and I can make more money.  Dang,  all this sounds so good I can see that new BMW in my driveway now.  I just hope no one asks if we pay for smoking cessation or other preventative programs…   

…I urge the City Council to leave the smoking ban in place and not to move Fort Wayne backward along the road to making ours a better, healthier and more marketable city.

Translation:  Because I really, really want that beemer!

Now the Blogmeister realizes that translation was a little harsh.  However, if the City Council does decide to revisit the smoking issue, it is hoped the writer of the opinion piece will provide figures reflecting the dramatic decrease in insurance premiums (with the same level of benefits) his company is offering employers of Fort Wayne to back up his assertions. 

January 13, 2008

Inside SB 218: Health Payor Study

Hat tip to Blue Indiana for bringing SB 218 to the Blogmeister’s attention.  This bill, authored by Sen. Vi Simpson (D-Elletsville) would establish a commission to study different systems of health care payment and make recommentations to the Governor and General Assembly.

Apparently the bill is having some difficulty getting a hearing in the Senate Health and Provider Services Committtee.   Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan, via Blue Indiana, are urging people to contact the Committee Chair, Sen. Patricia Miller (R-Indianapolis) and ask her to schedule the bill for a hearing.

January 12, 2008

From the Guv’s Office: Testifying to No No Taxes

This week, the Governor announced he will testify before a legislative committee, an unusual occurrence for a sitting Governor.  From the Fort Wayne News Sentinel .

Daniels says he’ll talk about his property tax relief and restructuring plan before the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday. He says committee chairman William Crawford invited him to speak.

Daniels says he didn’t make his decision lightly, because he wasn’t sure it’s the kind of precedent he wants to set. But he says he accepted because the property tax issue is so important.

It is unusual for governors to testify before legislative committees, but Daniels won’t be setting a precedent. Bob Orr did it when he was governor, as did Frank O’Bannon.

Daniels appearance will before the Ways and Means Committee at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday.  The Blogmeister wonders if Daniels is taking this step as the “no residential property tax” proposals are gaining momentum.  Something he sad he would “need a lot of convincing” to support.  Here is what he’s saying about this idea.  From the Indy Star:

Although support is building among some legislators for a plan to eliminate property taxes on homeowners, Gov. Mitch Daniels said Friday that he’ll need a lot of convincing.

The plan reflects “a great goal to have,” but Daniels said he has yet to find any realistic way to accomplish it.

No other state has found a way to eliminate property taxes.

Daniels said he’s not ready to expand the sales tax to services and is unequivocally opposed to raising income taxes to make up the revenues lost by a reduction in property taxes.  “I could not find a formula that I thought was responsible in terms of not raising other taxes too much, particularly things that might hurt the economy,” Daniels told reporters in his weekly media availability session.

Still, the governor said he can “in theory” support the concept of businesses paying property taxes while homeowners do not.“I see a special status around homeownership,” he said. “It’s the American dream, the core of it.”

… 

House Republicans on Thursday called for a vote this session on a constitutional amendment to eliminate property taxes for a person’s principal residence.

It’s an idea first pushed earlier this week by Sens. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, and Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood. Senate President Pro Tempore David C. Long, R-Fort Wayne, called the idea intriguing and promising.

Young and Waltz met with Daniels this week to discuss their proposal and said they were encouraged that the governor is keeping all ideas to cut property taxes on the table.

Daniels said he told the two he’d “look at about anything, with the exception of an increase in the income tax, which I would be very, very strongly disagreeing with because of its effect on working families, small business and the economy generally.”

House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, has said lawmakers should focus on Daniels’ plan instead of eliminating property taxes.

Young and Waltz have laid out seven options for replacing the $2.95 billion generated annually by property taxes on homesteads, one of which would increase the income tax. Others include increasing the sales tax, expanding it to new services and implementing a 3 percent transfer fee on the sale of real estate.

House Republicans have said they would support only a sales tax increase or expansion.

Daniels, however, said Friday that although he’s not rejecting anything except an income tax increase, he’s not sold on expanding the sales tax to services.

“I didn’t feel that was a good idea or an idea I wanted to advance,” he said, saying it raises “hundreds of questions” about fairness and the types of services to be taxed that would need to be thought through.

Lawmakers could choose to expand the sales tax to cover such things as legal and medical services, haircuts, massages and transactions between businesses.
Michigan last year adopted an expansion of its sales tax to some services — and repealed it in December, 15 hours after the tax took effect, because of public outrage. Businesses such as baby-shoe bronzers and wedding planners argued that it was unfair and confusing.

If Hoosier lawmakers were to figure out a way to eliminate property taxes on homesteads, Indiana would become the first state in the nation to do so.
Gerald Prante, a fiscal expert with The Tax Foundation, a national nonpartisan organization that follows tax issues, said several states — including Florida last year — have considered eliminating property taxes and backed off because it would have made their state’s sales tax among the highest in the nation and hurt business.

Landlocked Indiana, unlike coastal Florida, could see people go to other states to make purchases, Prante said.

Georgia, he said, also is looking at ways to eliminate property taxes for homeowners.

“It’s an election year, so you’re going to see this type of stuff,” Prante said. “It may not be good fiscal policy, but if it’s politically popular, they’re going to do it.

“Getting rid of the property tax on homeowners and not doing anything for business can be pretty politically smart, but not necessarily what you should do.”

Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said Indiana “would really stand out,” and not in a good way, if the state were the only one in the nation to exempt homeowners from property taxes.

It would drive business to other states, he said, and would work against some of the other property tax controls that lawmakers are considering, such as referendums on major building projects. Homeowners, freed from property taxes, would have no reason to vote against them, because businesses would be paying the bill, he said.

But Brinegar conceded the idea is gaining steam in the legislature.

“There is more political concern and alarm among the legislators than even we imagined there was or expected there was,” he said. “There’s a real sense we’ve got to do something and do something big, regardless of whether it’s good policy. This is not good policy in our view.”

As a reminder, the Governor will deliver his State of the State Address on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.  It is scheduled to last 30 minutes.

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