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INDIANAPOLIS – The Governor’s Public Health Commission is calling on Indiana lawmakers to approve roughly $250 million in new state funding for health departments.

It’s one of the recommendations in the commission’s draft report, which was approved June 30. A final version is in the works and will be released this summer. Gov. Eric Holcomb created the commission last year in hopes of improving Indiana’s public health system.

Local health departments in Indiana rely primarily on local tax dollars for funding. But the commission believes that should change to get Indiana’s public health system on par with other states.

“The reality is that we’re 41st out of 50 states in our overall health status,” said Dr. Paul Halverson, a member of the commission and the founding dean of the IU Fairbanks School of Public Health.

Halverson is all too familiar with the numbers that reveal the challenges plaguing Hoosier health.

“If you look, for example, [at] the life expectancy of downtown Indianapolis compared to Fishers, there’s a 14-year difference,” Dr. Halverson explained.

Government spending on public health in Indiana is currently $55 per Hoosier. The panel’s funding recommendation of $250 million from the state would allow Indiana to match the national average of $91 per person, Halverson said.

“Our public health jobs are not paying in a competitive way,” Halverson said. “So we’ve got to address the workforce.”

Halverson said he sees the impact of those issues firsthand as some of his graduates choose the private sector over government health jobs.

The commission also wants the state to keep better track of the healthcare workforce. Commission member Brian Tabor, who runs the Indiana Hospital Association, said he believes it’s a critical need.

“It’s going to take, I think, five to seven years for us to really get back to a long-term, sustainable supply of healthcare workers,” Tabor said.

Lawmakers will make decisions on public health funding early next year.

State Rep. Greg Porter (D-Indianapolis) said he believes it’s a feasible request, especially with Indiana’s more than $6 billion surplus.

“We’ve been talking about increasing dollars for public health for a number of years,” Porter said. “$250 million is a good start.”

We reached out to several Republican lawmakers for this story, and they declined or did not respond to our requests for interviews.