In her 16th year serving in the state legislature, Sen. Jean Breaux, D-District 34, is calling attention to the need for increased equity in the health care field through Senate Bill 151. If passed, the bill would create a scholarship fund for African American and minority students pursuing careers in health care. Administered by the Commission for Higher Education, the scholarship would provide up to $4,000 and require recipients to work in Indiana for two to four years following the completion of their degree.
Breaux, a member of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (IBLC), has already had success during this year’s legislative session — Senate Bill 95, which she co-authored, is headed to the House of Representatives after being heard by the Committee on Insurance and Financial Institutions. If passed, the bill would prohibit insurance companies from increasing rates or dropping an individual from an insurance plan if they are living organ donors. Breaux hopes this change would encourage more Hoosiers to donate. She’s also planning ahead to this summer, when she hopes the legislature will consider helping more women access doulas who guide mothers through pregnancy, labor and the postpartum period in the upcoming budget cycle.
Despite a shorter session this year — the 2022 legislative session ends March 14 — Breaux is hopeful Senate Bill 151 can get a hearing. The senator spoke with the Recorder about the bill and its potential impact for not just the students receiving the scholarship, but for the entire state.
Indianapolis Recorder: What kind of data were you looking at to determine the need for this bill in Indiana?
Sen. Jean Breaux: It came from an intuitive place. I required the services of some health care professionals recently, and I found a lot of very young, entry level African American females, many of whom were single parents. They were providing great service and care and were very bright and talented but didn’t have access to the resources necessary to pursue higher positions, but when I spoke to them, they expressed interests in becoming RNs and LPNs. When you look at the health care industry right now, due to COVID and all the people walking away from the field, there is a great demand for talent in this area. I think it’s a merging of supply with demand. You have bright, talented people of color who want to be in some of these demanding positions, and they need help getting there.
IR: For patients, what impact does having more representation in hospitals and care facilities have for health outcomes?
Breaux: I would have to believe that it will only have a positive outcome, and that’s because health care is a very complex field, particularly when you’re talking about your own personal health. Sometimes it’s hard to understand, or you might be timid and afraid to ask a question. I hope if we can populate the industry with people of color, it can bring a certain level of comfort to people who might find themselves afraid to talk about a personal issue. They might be more expressive if they feel their health care provider understands them a little more, or who looks like them and can identify with them. Ultimately, this will lead to more people having a better health care experience.
IR: How do you envision the scholarship program will operate?
Breaux: I’ve been in conversation with (Ivy Tech Community College President) Sue Ellspermann and trying to form a partnership with Ivy Tech. They have a great nursing program, and Ivy Tech might be one of the schools people can attend.
IR: You work a lot on issues pertaining to infant and maternal mortality. Do you have any plans this session to address Indiana’s rates?
Breaux: I want to request that over the summer, we consider a measure that would help doulas be assigned their own Medicaid number so they can be billed directly. I want to get that considered for the next budget cycle. Right now, doulas are had by people who can afford to pay for them by themselves, and if we can get more doulas dispatched around the state, we’ll see a reduction in infant mortality. Doulas can provide new mothers the emotional and medical support and just be a friend to go through the process with them. With Medicaid covering pregnancy for one year postpartum, that will help keep babies alive for the first year. The only way we’re going to address our state’s infant mortality rate is by addressing the high mortality rate in communities of color.
IR: It’s a short session this year. How confident are you that this bill and others put forward by IBLC members will get a hearing?
Breaux: You know, we’ve become much stronger as a caucus, and we’re under the great leadership of [Rep.] Robin Shackleford, and we’ve earned the respect of our colleagues across the aisle. There’s more willingness now than I’ve ever seen before of them wanting to listen to some of our bills and perhaps give some of them hearings.
IR: The state legislature has received national scrutiny this week. What do you want Hoosiers to know about the work that you and your fellow legislators are doing?
Breaux: I want them to know that those bills that have received national attention, they are fringe legislation and are not the kind of legislation that we’re spending our time on as the IBLC. We’re trying to deal with everyday issues that real Hoosiers are facing, like getting adequate COVID tests and child care availability. We want to deal with issues that impact the quality of life, and CRT (Critical Race Theory) and telling teachers how and what to teach and whether or not you have to have a permit to carry a gun, these aren’t issues that are going to put food on the table and make our families healthier. There are too many important issues that deserve our attention, and too many people suffering in our state. We need to help our people with the real issues.
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.