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October 22, 2013

TOM LoBIANCO: Ind. working poor highlighted in pair of studies

State's low-wage jobs come with a price tag.

A pair of reports released last week highlighted different angles of the continuing troubles faced by Indiana’s working poor and raised questions about who ends up paying for their safety net.

The Kaiser Family Foundation found 182,000 residents fall into a health insurance coverage “gap” because the state has not expanded Medicaid coverage, and a jobs study from the University of California, Berkeley, found almost half of Indiana’s fast food workers are also receiving public assistance.

The two reports provided sobering details as the state continues to struggle to pull out of the recession — the unemployment rate has hovered above 8 percent for more than a year now while the median income has declined over the past decade. It also helped shine some light on why the state’s leaders have been so heartily focused on improving job training programs statewide.

“It’s not a good state to be poor, or out of work, or uninsured,” said Morton Marcus, a veteran Indiana economist and former professor at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

Putting the health care gap in context: There are 182,000 adults earning between roughly $2,700 and $11,500 a year who will not receive federal health insurance. That excludes poor residents with children and Indiana’s elderly, who receive Medicare. The Kaiser report found Indiana’s numbers are not out of step with other states that have not expanded Medicaid under the federal health care law, but also noted in the states that did approve an expansion, there is no insurance gap.

That shortfall could be temporary here, however. Republican Gov. Mike Pence, long a vocal critic of traditional Medicaid, has said he would like to see the state expand the Healthy Indiana Plan to cover residents earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or roughly $15,400.

Democrats have charged the Pence administration with dragging its feet — an answer from the federal government could take many months — but Pence has said he wanted federal approval to continue the program before seeking an expansion, as a precaution against current enrollees losing coverage.

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