Gateway to Work program rolling out for Healthy Indiana participants

Editor’s note: The story and headline have been corrected to reflect the fact that the Gateway to Work Program is not a proposal but is in the process of being implemented beginning next January. It affects the Healthy Indiana Plan and that the rollout will be completed by July 2020. Allison Taylor is now the full-time Medicaid director, though the state website still shows her as interim director.

By Erica Irish
TheStatehouseFile.com     

INDIANAPOLIS — State health officials preparing to implement a plan to require Healthy Indiana Plan recipients to work, go to school or volunteer in their communities if they want to continue to receive coverage.

An interim committee on public health tasked with studying eligibility for Indiana’s various benefits programs met to hear about the rollout Thursday at the Statehouse.

Allison Taylor, who serves as the state’s Medicaid director with the Family and Social Services Administration, introduced the committee to a rough outline of her agency’s “Gateway to Work” program.

The initiative will require HIP recipients to devote 20 hours per week across eight months each year to certain activities, including traditional employment, education, job skill training or community service. The rollout begins in January and will be complete by July 2020.

“For the first time in modern history we’ve got more jobs than people to fill them,” Taylor said in her testimony. “We’ve got individuals who could really benefit from that connection between employment and health.”

As of 2015, Indiana law has required all able-bodied recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to work a minimum of 20 hours per week or 80 hours per month.

There are few exceptions to this rule, as explained by Adrienne Shields, director of the FSSA’s Division of Family Resources.

“We currently do have the opportunity to submit a waiver if there was an economic downturn for some reason at the city level, the county level, the regional level or at a statewide level,” Shields said. 

Shields went on to explain that prior to the law taking effect in July 2015, her administration served around 50,000 able-bodied SNAP recipients. As of this July, just over 11,000 able-bodied Hoosiers receive SNAP benefits.

For the Gateway to Work program, Taylor estimated that around 70 percent of those covered by HIP would be exempt. Those who, for example, are medically frail, primary caregivers or have been recently incarcerated would not be a part of the initiative.

“We’re going to make sure there is every opportunity for an individual to stay in the program and take advantage of those employment and training connections,” Taylor said, a process that includes fostering healthy partnerships with sponsors through statewide tours by the agency and using more flexible means of reporting, like online and mobile platforms.

However, some parties at the hearing were blunt in voicing their opposition to the proposal.

Fran Quigley, director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic of Indiana University’s McKinney School of Law, was adamant that the program is not different enough from traditional work requirements and claimed it would prevent many low-income citizens from gaining access to healthcare.

“Thousands of Hoosiers are going to be hurt by this,” said Quigley. “Under this planned work requirement, the most vulnerable Hoosiers among us will lose healthcare. This requirement is going to create a red tape barrier between those in need and the medicines that they need, often desperately so.”

Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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