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Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch is calling for an audit of the Family Social Services Administration two months after the agency acknowledged an unexpected nearly $1 billion cost jump in Medicaid expenses.
In doing so, Crouch was highly critical of Gov. Eric Holcomb, House Speaker Todd Huston and Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray after complicated legislation that included proposals addressing proposed cuts to Medicaid’s Attendant Care program died Feb. 1.
"I'm going to call for an independent audit of the FSSA," Crouch told Howey Politics/State Affairs on Monday ahead of a Tuesday news conference she called on the issue. "If they could make a billion dollar mistake that we know about, what else do we not know about ... yet? People just don't know about it."
The Family Social Services Administration’s Attendant Care program is complex. It currently compensates parents and guardians who provide attendant care to their disabled children. There is a shortage of trained professionals to help these families cope with often daunting disabilities. Crouch told Howey Politics she doesn't know how many Hoosier families will be impacted by the proposed cuts to the program that would go into effect July 1. Crouch said that she, the task force and affected families are seeking a "pause" in the new program rollout so questions can be answered.
Crouch said she and other critics asked the Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Task Force at a recent meeting how many families would be impacted by the changes. “We never got an answer,” she said. “I've heard numbers of 11,000, but I didn't hear that from FSSA, I heard that from the parents that I met with in Warsaw."
"These people don't have a voice," Crouch said. "They've been bringing their children to the Statehouse to have rallies. But the challenge is a lot of them can't bring their children because they have highly complex medical conditions. They have tracheostomies, they have feeding tubes. They have epileptic seizures multiple times a day. To get them to the Statehouse is a challenge for those parents. It's hard for them to engage in the issue.
"We're racing against the clock," Crouch said. "If the Legislature doesn't do anything and the governor doesn't do anything, nothing is going to happen.
"It appears that the leadership just refused to call down the bill to avoid a discussion of these issues pertaining to these parents being compensated for taking care of their children," the lieutenant governor said. "They just didn't want a discussion. It's like they are trying to put a lid on things. They just don't want attention."
Huston said Tuesday he thought it was premature for the Legislature to intervene.
“FSSA has put out proposed rules — they're still open; they're still taking feedback. So it would strike me that we should let that process take place, where people can give feedback,” Huston said. “I think we'll let the situation play out, and I understand people are wanting to opine on it, and they should.”
Crouch said in a statement last week, "I’m deeply disappointed with FSSA, but it is hard to be angry when your heart aches for the families and caregivers of the precious children they are attending to. It truly is heartbreaking. Since the meeting Monday, more and more families are contacting my office asking what can be done to reverse, or at least pause, these cuts."
As for Holcomb, Crouch issued a rare rebuke. "He's the governor, and he's performing his duties and I'm performing my duties as chair of the task force of the IDD Task Force," she said. "It is my duty to speak out on behalf of the people who don't have voices. And they don't have high-paid lobbyists. They have only people like me and the other members of the task force to speak out and draw attention to this issue."
Asked who at Family Social Services should be held responsible? Crouch responded, "I think that's up to the governor to decide."
Crouch drew a historical parallel to another troubled FSSA episode from the Daniels administration. "I see this issue very much like the IBM issue. The governor ignores the issue until the media becomes engaged, until he can no longer ignore it. I see this as the very same issue."
That was in reference to 2009 when Gov. Mitch Daniels pulled the plug on a $1.34 billion welfare privatization deal with IBM. Then-state Rep. Crouch and other southwestern and northeastern legislators began fielding complaints that people without computer skills seeking services like food stamps were falling through the cracks, sometimes with lethal repercussions.
Crouch said that once media coverage on the issue began, Daniels opted for a new hybrid approach, much of which still exists today. In a text to State Affairs after her news conference Tuesday, Crouch said, “Gov. Daniels had the political courage to acknowledge the problem and come up with a hybrid model that better served Hoosiers.”
Asked in October 2009 about the IBM contract, Daniels told Howey Politics, "The easiest thing to do in a situation like this is throw your hands up and say, ‘Well, that’s as good as it can be.’ This has been a daunting thing all along, and it still is, of course. Our first attempt didn’t get us there, but we did get some positives out of it. We’ll just have to take them and reverse some of the mistakes and move forward.”
Crouch said that in this situation she told constituents with questions and concerns to “contact the governor.”
“I have been given just normal speeches and in them I have spoken about this issue. In every instance my message has been the same. People need to be engaged and need to contact the governor's office because the governor made this happen. And also they need to engage with legislators because if the governor does not do anything to address this situation, then the Legislature can do it. But barring that, nothing happens. I can't make it happen.
Asked if she had spoken to the governor about the issue, Crouch said, "No."
On Monday, Crouch tweeted on X: "The FSSA's proposed cuts to the Attendant Care program are deeply troubling. It's clear action is needed. Hoosiers, your voice matters! Reach out to your legislators and demand a pause on these cuts!"
FSSA's Attendant Care program was created in 2017, Crouch said, and then with the COVID-19 pandemic, usage amped up, contributing to a nearly $1 billion forecasting error.
Crouch also addressed the speculation of program abuse. "If there are abuses in the system, let's get them addressed," she said. "When I asked if there were abuses at the IDD Task Force, they really couldn't speak to it with any great thoroughness."
Senior Reporter Tom Davies contributed to this story.
Read more on the FSSA:
Senators rejected a proposal Monday to remove strict limitations on what legal research Indiana’s public access counselor could consider in reviewing open government matters. That means House Bill 1338 could face a full Senate vote on Tuesday with provisions that supporters of the access counselor’s office argue would hamstring its ability to answer questions about …
Indiana doctors performed fewer than four abortions a week during the final three months of 2023, continuing the sharp downturn under the state’s near-total abortion ban.
Doctors reported 46 abortions from October through December, according to the state Department of Health’s latest quarterly report on abortions.
The ban that took effect in August allows abortions only in cases of rape or incest before 10 weeks post-fertilization or to protect the life and health of the mother or because of a lethal fetal anomaly up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. It also voided the state licenses of all Indiana abortion clinics, allowing abortions only in hospitals or hospital-owned surgery centers.
Of the abortions reported during the fourth quarter of last year, 22 were because of lethal fetal anomalies, 21 were attributed to health risks to the pregnant woman and three were due to rape or incest, according to the state report released last week.
The 46 abortions during the fourth quarter represented a 97% drop from the 1,724 reported during the same three months in 2022 while the abortion ban was blocked by a judge’s order later overturned by the state Supreme Court.
Indiana Right to Life, the state’s most prominent anti-abortion group, hailed the decline but joined criticism of the Department of Health for not releasing individual terminated pregnancy reports as it had done before the ban went into effect.
The agency has said it no longer releases those reports under state law that declares medical records confidential because of more detailed information required from doctors.
“The Indiana Department of Health is blocking public access to terminated pregnancy reports,” Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter said in a statement Monday. “This manipulation creates a lack of transparency, making it impossible to verify these numbers are accurate — and that Indiana law is being followed related to abortion activity.”
Abortion-rights supporters have argued that the ban wrongly limits access to health care. They’ve also maintained that abortion care would largely be unavailable outside Indianapolis even in situations meeting the limited exceptions, with the procedure no longer available at abortion clinics.
All but two of the 46 abortions during the reporting period were performed at Indianapolis hospitals, with the most at Riley Health Maternity Tower (21) and Eskenazi Hospital (10). The only hospital-performed abortions outside Indianapolis were one each at Dupont Hospital and Parkview Regional Medical Center, both in Fort Wayne.
The Senate has backed off a proposal that would block lawyers who’ve faced recent serious misconduct sanctions from running for state attorney general. A Senate committee had added a provision to an elections-related bill last week as Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita remains under scrutiny from the state’s attorney disciplinary commission after being reprimanded by …
The scope of what Indiana’s public access counselor could consider in reviewing open government matters would be strictly limited under provisions added to legislation in the closing days of the legislative session.
Amendments that a Senate committee made this week to House Bill 1338 would also reduce the office’s independence by eliminating the four-year term the access counselor has after being appointed by the governor.
The Legislature in 1999 established the access counselor position to review questions from the public, government officials and others about the state’s open meetings and public records laws.
The public access counselor’s office, with two attorneys and one other staff member, issues dozens of advisory opinions each year but has no authority to enforce the access laws or punish violators.
Advocate says amendment ‘guts’ counselor’s authority
Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, offered the amendment allowing the access counselor’s advisory opinions to consider only “the public access laws, as plainly written,” and “valid opinions of Indiana courts.”
Freeman, chair of the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee, expressed frustration with Public Access Counselor Luke Britt’s opinions without giving specifics during the Tuesday meeting when the provision was added.
“The public access counselor, it says that he, in this case, shall liberally construe the code,” Freeman said. “He’s issued some opinions that I vehemently disagree with and I think others in our body and in this building vehemently disagree with.”
The amendment “functionally guts” the access counselor’s ability to consider the context of a situation unless it has been directly addressed by the Legislature or court, said Amelia McClure, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association.
“The code can never contemplate all of the different circumstances that public access concerns are going to arise,” McClure said. “So the public access counselor has to consider new technologies, what location, the circumstances of the conversation in a way that a civil code will never be able to contemplate.”
Britt was appointed access counselor in 2013 by then-Gov. Mike Pence and reappointed by Gov. Eric Holcomb in 2017 and 2021.
Britt, whose current term runs until Oct. 31, 2025, declined to comment to State Affairs on Freeman’s amendments. The governor’s office didn’t immediately reply Thursday to a request for comment.
The restrictions on the access counselor’s office were not raised during the first seven weeks of this year’s legislative session and became public only two days before the Senate committee’s deadline to take action.
Public access counselor’s role at issue
Some conservatives criticized an opinion Britt released last fall in which he concluded the Hamilton East Public Library Board in Fishers violated the open meetings law when two board members met with their attorneys at a coffee shop.
That opinion came amid public debate over a push by conservative members of that board to review all youth-section books and move those with “inappropriate” content to adult sections.
The opening section of Indiana’s public records law states it should be “liberally construed to implement this policy and place the burden of proof for the nondisclosure of a public record on the public agency that would deny access to the record.”
Freeman said during the committee meeting that he favored striking the “liberally construed” phrase from the law, but other senators thought that went too far.
The amendment limiting the access counselor’s authority was added to the bill on a 5-3 vote as Democratic Sen. Greg Taylor joined Freeman and other Republicans Mike Bohacek, Cyndi Carrasco and Eric Koch. Republicans Liz Brown and Sue Glick and Democrat Rodney Pol voted against the amendment.
Glick said the restriction on what the access counselor could consider didn’t make sense.
“You’re paying an attorney for their opinion, and now you’re limiting that,” Glick said.
Change would eliminate term of office
Freeman also advocated for an amendment eliminating the access counselor’s four-year term and making the position one that serves “at the pleasure of the governor.”
“When we have a new governor … I believe the governor should be able to pick the person that they’re choosing to serve,” Freeman said. “As any other appointed office, we serve at the privilege of the governor. So I believe this should be no different.”
Those people appointed to lead state departments can typically be removed at the governor’s discretion. However, hundreds of appointments to state boards and other positions, such as the state Election Division’s co-directors, are made for set terms.
McClure, the Hoosier State Press Association’s director, said eliminating the four-year term would take away some of the office’s independence from political concerns.
“That’s important when it’s an advisory opinion that’s interpreting actions of all kinds of different bodies that have all kinds of different political affiliations,” McClure said.
The full bill, which initially focused only on allowing local government boards to establish meeting decorum rules, could be taken up by the full Senate next week. The additions would still also need approval from the House before this year’s legislative session ends by March 14.