INDIANAPOLIS — Kathy Thorpe, a retired nurse from Morgan County, Indiana, has relied on a blood thinner, Arixtra, and five stents in her heart to stay alive since 2009.
But without the benefits afforded to her through Medicare and Medicaid, her prescription for the blood thinner would cost close to $10,000 each month, Thorpe said. And that is why threats to programs that make healthcare insurance options like Medicaid more widely available to Hoosiers must end, she said, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“It’s not fair that they have to choose between their life and putting food on the table,” Thorpe said about citizens faced with tough decisions that stem from steep healthcare costs.
Thorpe appeared with other residents during a press conference hosted Wednesday afternoon by Hoosier Action, a statewide advocacy group fighting for visibility and rights for Hoosiers in rural and small-town communities.
Hoosier Action members identified three intertwined crises that they said are affecting all Hoosiers: the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic recession and a lack of law enforcement accountability that has again been brought to the public’s attention through protests around the country after Minnesota man George Floyd died in police custody May 25.
For the Hoosier Action members, the fight to protect Hoosier healthcare began well before the current public health crisis. For Morgan County Hoosier Action Leader Chuck Thrawley and others in the coalition, it began when Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill decided to join a multi-state lawsuit in 2018 that claims the Obama-era Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.
“Before the global pandemic struck, it was wrong for Indiana to be taking part in a lawsuit that would strip healthcare from the people who needed it the most,” Thrawley said. “In the middle of a pandemic, it became a travesty that our elected leaders would be taking part in such a calculated action to hurt people that are already hurting.”
The lawsuit, California v. Texas, has reached the U.S. Supreme Court and many groups have submitted amicus curiae, or friend of the court, briefs both in favor of and against repealing the controversial act. The Court is expected to hear oral arguments on the case in the fall.
“Hoosiers and all Americans deserve sound policies that safeguard their health care needs, including protections for those with pre-existing conditions. But these policies must accomplish these ends while also staying true to the Constitution,” Hill said in a statement Wednesday about why Indiana is part of the lawsuit. “The Affordable Care Act fails by this measure. I support efforts at the state and national levels to develop better solutions for ensuring that all individuals have ready access to quality, affordable health care.”
When asked about Hoosier Action’s criticism of the lawsuit in a virtual press briefing Wednesday, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb did not answer whether Indiana should remove itself from the lawsuit. He instead said preserving healthcare options for Hoosiers remains a priority, and pointed to the state’s Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, or HIP 2.0, program that expanded Medicaid access to some 400,000 Hoosiers as something he wants to protect.
“We’re doing all we can to protect the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0,” Holcomb said. “That’s intact, and will be intact. And I’ll be fighting for that every single day.”
While Hoosier Action largely represents residents in rural areas, members said the threat to healthcare transcends geography: The loss of the Affordable Care Act would likely be felt in urban areas first, said Hoosier Action Executive Director Kate Hess Pace, and then worsen circumstances in rural communities, where hospitals are consolidating and closing.
“To some extent, this affects all of us,” Pace said. “It puts back into place pre-existing conditions — COVID-19 is a preexisting condition — it raises all of our healthcare premiums, and it weakens our entire healthcare infrastructure.”
Hoosier Action members said they are also concerned about the economic downturn that has resulted from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has left many unemployed and unable to pay for needs like housing.
Hoosier Action officials said in a press release Indiana’s moratorium on evictions should be continued to help protect an estimated 258,782 Hoosiers who are at risk of eviction and homelessness, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Holcomb announced Wednesday he would extend the moratorium through July.
Aimee Lee, a student from Indiana University in Bloomington and Hoosier Action leader for Hamilton County, said in the Wednesday press conference the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted her housing, education and summer job prospects.
For the last year, Lee said, she worked to secure certifications and other training to land her first EMS job this summer. But as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, she was laid off from what was supposed to be the entrance to her career.
Now, her EMS uniform sits in a closet. Without a job, she had to move home with her parents and sub-lease her apartment, forcing her to incur additional fees that she had no choice but to pay with savings intended to cover tuition for her summer classes.
“Not only am I in a more financially precarious situation,” Lee said. “I am quite behind on my degree.”
In addition to extending the moratorium on evictions, state leaders unveiled a new program through the Indiana Housing and Community Development Association Wednesday aimed at providing financial assistance to residents behind on rent payments.
Erica Irish is the 2020 Russell Pulliam editor for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.