HHS secretary Azar to visit Indy as state awaits Medicaid work ruling

Barely two weeks after being confirmed as U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services, former Eli Lilly and Co. executive Alex Azar is returning to Indianapolis on Friday for an announcement with state officials.

The visit comes as Indiana officials await a decision from federal health officials on their waiver request that would require many able-bodied, low-income residents to work at least 20 hours a week for eight months of the year to receive state-supported Medicaid health care coverage.

Nine states have applied for waivers that would clear the way for work requirements for Medicaid recipients. Last month, Kentucky became the first state to win a waiver.

Azar is scheduled to hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. at Eskenazi Hospital, the city’s major “safety net” hospital for under-insured patients. Joining him will be Gov. Eric Holcomb and Dr. Jennifer Walthall, secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, which oversees Medicaid funding. Neither state nor federal officials would confirm the nature of the announcement.

Indiana is one of 32 states that have expanded their Medicaid program through the Affordable Care Act, under a program known as the Healthy Indiana, or HIP 2.0.

Currently, the program requires that low-income Hoosiers have “skin in the game” by contributing financially. Most participants must pay a small monthly amount, usually a few dollars, into a health savings account—a requirement that’s not part of the federal legislation.

The plan covers Indiana residents between the ages of 19 and 64 whose family incomes are less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level and aren’t eligible for Medicare or another Medicaid program.

It remains unclear how many HIP 2.0 recipients would be affected by Holcomb’s work proposal. A third of the program’s participants already meet that work requirement, and most members qualify for at least one of 14 exemptions and wouldn’t have to work. Exemptions apply to people who are medically frail, older than 60, full- or part-time students, or primary caretakers for young or disabled students.

Azar was confirmed Jan. 24 as Trump’s second HHS secretary. He previously spent 10 years as a senior executive at Lilly and drew criticism after Lilly raised the price of insulin and other widely used medications during his tenure.

Trump's first health chief, former Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., resigned last fall amid an outcry over his use of costly private charter aircraft for official travel.

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