As the keynote speaker for the Katherine Ratliff Memorial Conference at the University of Indianapolis late last month, Joycelyn Elders had a great deal to say about healthcare in the state of Indiana. As former President Bill Clinton’s Surgeon General of the United States from 1993 to 1994, Elders was a lightning rod for controversy due to her outspoken support for ideas ranging from drug legalization to instruction that would teach schoolchildren how to masturbate – as part of an overall effort to reduce the spread of HIV. The latter idea resulted in her forced resignation.
Her latest keynote speech was focused on healthcare disparities, and covered a broad range of topics related to health care in the state of Indiana and around the nation. The speech also included an opportunity for attendees to ask questions. Part of the speech focused on areas in which Indiana has been improving in recent years, though Elders noted that the state’s progress has been slower than that made elsewhere in the nation.
Her remarks highlighted issues like teen pregnancy, which have long been a concern across the nation. But while she noted that Indiana has fallen behind the nation in efforts to lower the rate of teen pregnancy, that argument fails to address the fact that the teen pregnancy rate across the state is lower than it’s ever been. A report from the Indiana Youth Institute suggests that the pregnancy rate for teen girls between the ages of 15 and 17 has plummeted during the last decade. It’s also worth noting that the same report revealed that teen abortions also declined significantly over the last ten years, going from 1,828 abortions in 2003 to 943 in 2013 – a reduction of 48% in just one decade.
Elders also addressed a supposed failure to keep pace with education about safe sex practices and sexually transmitted diseases – which was almost certainly a swipe at Indiana’s abstinence-focused sex education curriculum. However, pregnancy rates and abortions are declining, so it’s probably premature for critics to suggest that the state’s approach is not working.
The issue of sexually transmitted diseases is worth noting, of course, given the recent revelations that the number of cases of primary and secondary syphilis rose from 168 to 285 between 2014 and 2015. In all fairness, however, the CDC has reported that sexually transmitted diseases across the country were at their highest rates in two decades in 2014. Clearly, education is not the only culprit. Some officials have already noted that this is an issue that needs to be addressed by more physicians using early screenings and proactive patient counseling.
As expected, Elders also focused on the disparity between those who have health insurance and those who still lack that coverage. That issue is one that is probably going to continue to boil near the surface of heated waters of American debate for decades to come, barring a sudden increase in support for universal health care coverage – a la a single-payer, government-run healthcare system. After all, America still has tens of millions of people without healthcare insurance six years after the passage of the Affordable Care and many states’ adoption of Medicaid expansion.
Though some of what she focused on is largely a matter of perspective, one thing is for certain: Elders’ emphasis on health care is timely. Providing quality access to health care remains a top priority for many Americans, ranking near the top of most lists of national and regional concerns. In Indiana, the health care debate continues unabated as citizens, public officials, and medical practitioners still work to ensure that all of Indiana’s residents receive the care they need.
The Healthy Indiana Plan has been just one step in that process, providing our state with a form of Medicaid expansion that offers access to those benefits to more Indiana residents than ever before. At the same time, however, there is no question that more needs to be done. As of last year, the state still had an uninsured rate of more than 11 percent, which remains higher than its neighbors – though those states did implement Medicaid expansion first.
Like other states, Indiana already offers Medicaid benefits to many seniors who need help paying for long-term care. That didn’t receive attention in Elders’ commentary, since few residents give it much thought until such care is needed. It is still an important issue, though, and one that is worthy of reflection to ensure that we continue to provide seniors with the help they need in their later years.
For the attendees who were privileged to hear the former Surgeon General speak, the event was certainly intriguing. There were many who found the conversation thought-provoking, as many of their previous assumptions and beliefs were openly challenged by Elders’ assertions. She also made a great point by stressing that college students have an obligation to become more involved in the search for solutions to these problems, since they are the future leaders who will someday have to deal with these issues from various positions of authority.
Overall, the presentation was a fair critique of where the state currently stands in relation to meeting many of its most pressing health care needs. And while some perspective might be useful when discussing Indiana’s progress in some of the areas addressed by Elders, the central tenets of the speech and subsequent question and answer session are useful conversations to have about Indiana health care.
At Frank & Kraft, Attorneys at Law, we take health care seriously too. Our elder law experts work with residents in the area every day to help them address many of the most important health-related concerns they have, assisting with everything from guardianship concerns to Medicaid planning. Our estate planning attorneys can also provide individuals and families with the financial and legacy planning they need to ensure that their interests are protected throughout their lives and beyond. To learn more about how we can help you with your pressing elder law and estate planning concerns, call today at (317) 684-1100, or contact us at our website.