August 28, 2015; Indianapolis Star

Public-private partnerships are often the solution to problems and needs that the public sector cannot, or will not, address on its own. They run the gamut from the local school bake-sale to statewide private foundations created to fill gaps in public funding, as is the case in Indiana.

Indiana’s state legislature is looking to address the fact that it is one of the 10 states that spend the fewest dollars on public health by creating a nonprofit to ask individuals and corporations to donate to public health initiatives.

According to the Indianapolis Star, the Healthy Hoosiers Foundation will focus on reducing the state’s infant mortality, obesity and smoking rates. It will also raise funds to improve childhood immunization rates.

“No other state is funding their health department in this way,” said the foundation’s executive director.

Indiana is the ninth-most obese state; more than two-thirds of adults are obese or overweight. The infant mortality rate is 7.15 per 1,000 live births, one of the highest in the nation. Moreover, more than one million Hoosiers smoke, according to the article.

The foundation will focus this year on reducing rates of infant mortality and smoking by spending whatever it raises for the state’s anti-tobacco program. Almost 16 percent of pregnant women in Indiana smoke, compared with the national average of 8.5 percent.

The state’s “Baby & Me” program enrolls pregnant women, gives them tobacco-cessation counseling and requires that they quit before delivering. The foundation hopes to raise about $500,000 this year to enroll an additional 1,500 women.

To date, the Community Health Network, IU Health, and senior living operator CarDon & Associates have become sponsors of the Healthy Hoosiers Foundation. State health officials told the Star that the foundation’s creation should doesn’t mean that state legislators are not funding the health department at the level it should.

“We’re doing a lot of great work here but there are gaps…the Healthy Hoosiers Foundation can amplify [innovation].”

Foundation supporters say that taxpayers might favor tax-deductible donations to the foundation over a tax increase to pay for public health programs. They also believe that it will respond more quickly than the legislature. Still, the paper points out that creating such a foundation lets the legislature off the hook when it comes to funding public health: “Time will tell whether the foundation improves public health funding in the state or reduces it.”

Public health spending is lower in Indiana than most other states—it ranks 44th in state public health funding per capita.

“The last thing we want to do is provide another excuse to partly fund public health,” one skeptic told the paper. “This shouldn’t be used as a substitute for government investment in public health.”—Larry Kaplan