House begins discussion of public health recommendations
The House Public Health Committee heard three hours of testimony Tuesday on plans to beef up Indiana’s local public health infrastructure.

Senate Bill 4 reflects the recommendations of the Governor’s Public Health Commission to improve Indiana’s public health rankings, which fall in the bottom 10 among states in nearly every category. The Senate passed the bill 41-7 last month. 

“Senate Bill 4 has the potential to change lives, and consequently the future of our communities and our state,” bill author Sen. Ed Charbonneau (D-Valparaiso) said. 

Indiana Department of Health Commissioner Kristina Box, MD, told legislators that the state can’t address its chronic health problems through clinical care alone, but must also focus “upstream” on preventive measures at the local levels.

Most of SB 4 focuses on giving more resources to local health departments, addressing needs such as smoking cessation programs and efforts to make sure pregnant women receive prenatal care. However, the bill also expands trauma care, and vision screenings for children when they begin school. 

Current law requires at least one vision screening by eighth grade, but SB 4 would require five screenings starting in kindergarten. Under the bill, schools could no longer request a waiver from hosting the screenings. Derek Sprunger, MD, past president of the Indiana Academy of Ophthalmology, testified that nearly a quarter of Indiana school districts requested waivers last year, meaning 50,000 children weren’t screened at school.

ISMA President Pardeep Kumar, MD, MBA, pledged the ISMA’s help in recruiting county public health officers to ensure those positions are filled by physicians. The bill allows a physician to oversee more than one county, making it easier to fill those vacancies without the bill’s fallback of allowing administrators with master’s degrees in public health to hold the job.

The health committee will vote on the bill sometime in the next four weeks. The new state budget, currently under consideration in the Senate, includes $225 million over two years in funding for the package – one-third less than Gov. Eric Holcomb’s original request.