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(INDIANAPOLIS) – A 15-member commission will analyze how Indiana’s public health system can be improved.

Governor Holcomb announced the creation of the commission Wednesday. He says the panel will review whether the structure and funding of Indiana’s public health system is getting in the way of health care.

The commission will look at ways to address disparities in access to health care, including divides between urban and rural communities and between whites and minorities.

Holcomb says the review was in the works even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Indiana ranks among the worst states on a string of health measurements, from smoking to obesity to childhood immunizations. Holcomb says that shortens Hoosier life spans, raises health care costs, and makes it harder for businesses to locate and prosper in Indiana.

Judy Monroe, who served as state health commissioner under former Governor Mitch Daniels, and former Noblesville Senator Luke Kenley (R) will co-chair the commission. Current health commissioner Kristina Box will also be part of the panel.

Monroe says while the pandemic isn’t the reason for the commission, the coronavirus has been a “stress test” revealing the health system’s strengths and weaknesses. And Holcomb says the commission’s report will include an evaluation of the state’s response to the pandemic. But he says the primary focus is on the long term.

Indiana has 94 local health departments: one for each county, plus city health departments in Fishers and Gary.

Holcomb will appoint the rest of the commission before its first meeting next month. The remaining 12 members are to include three elected officials and nine health care professionals: two local health department leaders, one academic, and representatives of hospitals, nursing homes, local health administrators, health care workforce initiatives, and rural and minority health groups.

The commission will deliver its recommendations next summer, in time for legislators to consider them while writing the next state budget in 2023. Holcomb says it’s likely some preliminary improvements will surface before the final report, and says he won’t wait to implement ideas which don’t require legislative approval.