Legislative leaders are always reluctant to make promises for a short session of the Indiana General Assembly. That's true for the upcoming term, which House Speaker Brian Bosma said Wednesday will wrap up by March 11 — before the NCAA men's basketball Midwest regional tips off in Indianapolis.

But basketball fans won't take precedence over efforts to address the state's high health care costs. In remarks at the annual Legislative Conference Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, insisted the issue is a priority for his caucus.

“There are two major reasons to be concerned about that: First and foremost is the cost of health care for Hoosier families,” Bray said. “When somebody is trying to pay the premium for their health care for their family and by the time you get your premium paid throughout the year, the deductible paid, you're probably $20,000 or $30,000 on health care before insurance has helped you at all — and that becomes unsustainable for many, many families.”

Bray said that for Hoosiers “who are fortunate enough to have health insurance coverage through their employers,” the cost represents a large portion of their salary because of the cost carried by the employer.

“It really becomes an economic development piece, as well,” he said. “We pride ourselves here in the state of Indiana to have a good tax structure that is competitive; to have a strong regulatory environment that gets the job done — makes sure certain interests are protected without being overly bureaucratic. And this piece is part of that competitive edge, as well.”

Bray, an attorney, said Indiana is an outlier among states for its health care costs. He cited a Rand Corp. study released earlier this year that compared prices private health insurance plans paid to almost 1,600 hospitals in 25 states from 2015 to 2017. The charges in Indiana were the highest among those studied.

“That puts us at a competitive disadvantage,” he said. “So you're going to see us looking deeply at that.”

Sen. Ed Charbonneau, chair of the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee, has been working for months on the issue, according to the Senate leader.

Bray said transparency in billing will be a focus of the legislation, along with surprise billing — where patients discover after treatment that a provider was not in their insurance company's network of approved providers. Legislators also are looking at barriers to entry in the health system that might discourage competition and increase costs.

House Minority Leader PhilGiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said his caucus supports the effort.

“There seems to be some momentum for doing some things on the health care front,” he said, “whether it's prescription costs, more transparency with billing. We would certainly support that.”

GiaQuinta said he would also like to see the legislature address other health care concerns beyond cost.

“We have a real problem with regard to infant mortality. That's a health issue, too,” he said. “If there's an increase in the cigarette tax, (new revenue) should go into programs to help in those areas with the most need. We know the ZIP codes with the highest rates; we know where the people who need help are. One of those ZIP code areas is in my own district.”

Work done this year in interim study committees will guide the legislation, according to the Senate leader.

“We look forward to a short session where we're not going to fix all of this, I assure you – it's much too complex for that, but really begin to move the state forward in that regard,” Bray said.

Whatever can be done in the upcoming session to lighten Hoosiers' health care cost burden will be much appreciated.

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