Lawsuit seeks to block Indiana’s Medicaid work requirements

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Four Indiana residents are suing the federal government over the state’s plan to implement work requirements for low-income residents who receive their health insurance through Medicaid.

The lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Washington comes after rulings in other lawsuits have blocked similar work requirements in Arkansas, Kentucky and New Hampshire.

Indiana’s program would require those who don’t qualify for exemptions to report 20 hours a month of work or related activity, or face coverage loss after Dec. 31.

The lawsuit filed by Indiana Legal Services, a nonprofit law firm, and the National Health Law Program, which advocates for low-income residents’ access to health care, argues that Indiana’s rules wrongly jeopardize health coverage for thousands of people.

“These requirements put an extra burden on Medicaid eligibility that jeopardizes the health coverage of our clients and thousands of other vulnerable individuals,” said Adam Mueller, advocacy director at Indiana Legal Services.

About 440,000 low-income Indiana residents are on the Healthy Indiana Plan program, which is funded by federal Medicaid dollars but requires participants to make a financial contribution.

An initial projection shows that about 130,000 able-bodied HIP members could be affected by the new rules. Many others already meet the employment requirement or fall under one of 14 exemptions, The Journal Gazette reported.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office said in a statement the requirements are intended “to ensure Hoosiers can easily skill up, volunteer in their community, or get a better-paying job.”

“It’s disappointing a lawsuit has been filed before the program has had an opportunity to prove its success,” it said.

The lawsuit names as defendants the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The work requirement was approved by HHS as a condition of coverage for adults. Its exemptions include the medically frail, those older than 60, full- or part-time students, primary caretakers of young or disabled children, pregnant women, the recently incarcerated and former foster children.

One of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs is Mary Holbrock, a 54-year-old Fort Wayne woman who has Lyme disease and numerous other health problems, including chronic pain. Holbrock, who has a Ph.D. in linguistics, taught at the university level until 2010, when she lost her job. She now works part-time grading standardized tests, earning $400 a month and receiving food assistance.

Although she has received a letter saying she’s exempt from the HIP work requirements — likely because she’s medically frail — Holbrock worries that she could lose her exemption.

While she’s currently classified as medically frail, her health plan has revoked that status twice without explanation despite her health conditions not improving.