Health legislation background bolsters Braun gubernatorial campaign


By Whitney Downard, Indiana Capital Chronicle

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun has emerged as a frontrunner in the hotly contested race to succeed the term-limited Gov. Eric Holcomb, consistently leading his five competitors for Indiana governor in polling.

The Jasper business owner, one of the wealthiest men in Congress, frequently invites the public to visit him in his hometown—a practice he said wouldn’t end even if elected to the state’s highest office.

To get there, Braun needs to overcome challenges from Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, businessmen Brad Chambers and Eric Doden, former Attorney General Curtis Hill and Jamie Reitenour to win the Republican primary on May 7.

Being a reliably red state, the winner of the party nomination will likely be Indiana’s next governor—though the Republican nominee will face a challenge from Democrat Jennifer McCormick and Libertarian Donald Rainwater.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, in an IndyStar op-ed shared across outlets, called for his potential successors to be more explicit in their proposals, but Braun said such plans would come after the primary.

A 16-point plan on his website runs the gamut from education to the border but don’t yet have specifics. Solidifying those points into legislative-ready proposals won’t happen until later, he said.

“Is anybody else putting out something that would be a bill, so to speak? I don’t think they’re doing that. They would just be going into detail on some of the major policy things they want to do,” Braun said.

To learn more about Braun’s stances on various issues, read the Indiana Capital Chronicle’s Q+As with the six Republican candidates for governor, which include: the economy, education, taxes and the environment.

Strength in health care policy

One area with Braun stands out compared to his opponents is health care legislation. In Washington, D.C., Braun has authored legislation focused on demystifying the opaque costs and reducing burdens on Americans while frequently sharing the story of his own struggles with health care costs as a business owner.

Braun said systems like third party administrators and networks are “convoluted things that occur within health care,” making it “almost impossible to decipher what it would cost (the patient) going into something.”

He said such efforts date back to his time in the Indiana House of Representatives, when he authored bills on transparency and cost comparisons with Medicare reimbursement rates—a precursor in some ways to Indiana’s in-progress All Payers Claims Database.

Such congressional efforts include:

  • The Wounded Warriors Act, which helps veterans access their claims electronically.
  • The COVID-19 Origins Act, which requires the declassification of intelligence related to potential links between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The ALS Disability Insurance Act, which eliminated the five-month waiting period before patients with ALS could access benefits. Follow-up action ensured it was properly implemented.
  • The DUMP Opioids Act, which requires Veterans Affairs’ pharmacies to have drop-off sites for unwanted medications.
  • A transparency bill that “requires insurers to submit a report twice a year detailing price trends and reimbursements for prescription drugs, as well as how prescription drugs are contributing to premium increases under group health plans.”

But state actions on health care are often constrained by federal limitations. One common congressional act invoked in state health care policy discussions around insurance is the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, or ERISA, which courts have ruled supersedes some state actions and covers nearly all private-sector plans.

Braun insisted states could still do more.

“There’s a lot that you can do on things like insurance, (such as) associated and pooling to get individual policyholders to be able to have the benefit of what a large group plan would have,” Braun said. “There are some rules that are federal, like doctors not being able to expand or start their own hospitals.”

One of the biggest hurdles for the state’s next governor, who crafts a budget proposal that legislators draw upon, will be creating a long-term plan for Medicaid—the fastest-growing portion of the budget.

Part of the problem, Braun said, is that the federal and state governments split the cost of the program, with the federal government paying roughly two-thirds. But the federal government “doesn’t pay any attention, generally, to costs,” Braun said.

The bigger problem is the overall expense of our health care system, he said.

“Even Medicaid and Medicare are still paying into a broken system that does not want to fix itself, that is not run efficiently,” Braun said. “… until we actually fix the big players in health care to be inherently competitive and transparent—and we create health care consumers—we’re going to see our health care costs keep going up regardless of whether you have private pay or you’re getting your health care through Medicaid and Medicare.”

Part of improving overall health outcomes includes “promoting wellness and prevention,” Braun said.

“… it may require legislation (or) may be able to do it administratively. That’s going to be the main (focus). And that’s riling up some concern because big health care — I’m talking about insurance and hospitals — generally aren’t interested in that; everyone else is,” Braun said.

In 2023, a coalition of health care stakeholders — including hospitals, local public health departments and university experts — pushed the General Assembly to invest in Indiana’s public health infrastructure. After several rounds of negotiations, legislators opted to dedicate $215 million to shore up Indiana’s system.

“Our public health numbers are very poor. Infant and maternal mortality rates are shameful,” Braun said. “Public health … is, to me, a good place to take the cash flow that we’ve got, manage it well and maybe invest more in it.”

Budgets and business

Braun points to other areas beyond health care, including work on conservation and an infrastructure bill passed during his time in the General Assembly, the latter of which his opponents have invoked in attacks.

On the environment front, Braun’s campaign biography says he “is an avid outdoorsman and enthusiastic morel mushroom hunter.”

Once voted the most effective freshman senator, Braun has prioritized fiscal constraint and repeatedly voted against bills that add to the deficit but has made the most headlines for his fervent support of former President Donald Trump.

He dismissed an analysis that said Trump-proposed tax cuts added to the national debt and mostly benefited the wealthy.

“You can probably spin those numbers anyway you want … you’re always going to starve the treasury of a little money when you cut taxes but then your economic growth goes up. And we’re generating record revenues currently with those Trump tax cuts,” Braun said.

That dogged focus on the fiscal line would translate well to Indiana, he said, where the state is statutorily required to draft a balanced budget. Still, he said improvements could be made in tightening agencies in ways to provide unspecified property tax relief and fund infrastructure improvements.

One such agency would be the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, tasked with bringing businesses to the state and providing resources to entrepreneurs. Braun and others have lambasted the quasi-public agency’s approach of attracting multi-billion investments like Eli Lilly and SK Hynix.

“(I’ll) probably disproportionately push more resources to homegrown, smaller businesses than trying to reel in the whales (rather than) help very large businesses that are already on their feet,” Braun said. “I think you get a lot more winners coming out and trying to help fledgling businesses than you would helping businesses that are already in pretty good shape.”

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.