ILNews

Unwed father must reimburse Medicaid

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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An order for an unwed father to pay back Medicaid at least 50 percent of birthing expenses for the mother and baby does not violate the father's rights under the U.S. Constitution, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

In In the Matter of the Paternity of A.R.S.A.; Alberto S. Meneses v. Rudit A. Legunes, 79A04-0706-JV-323, Meneses appealed the trial court order that he has to pay Medicaid 50 percent of the birthing expenses incurred during the birth of his son. Meneses is not married to the mother, Legunes, but does live with her.

Meneses argues that Indiana Code 31-14-17-1 only pertains to the reimbursement of the mother's medical expenses, not the expenses of the infant. He also argues his rights are being violated under the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, contending that married fathers are not required to reimburse expenses to Medicaid and the court never allowed him an opportunity to show if he could pay the amount ordered in the judgment.

Meneses signed a paternity affidavit declaring himself to be the biological father of A.R.S.A., and the trial court later entered an order establishing his paternity. In a separate judgment, the trial court ordered Meneses to pay 50 percent of the baby's birthing expenses totaling nearly $3,300. Meneses filed a motion to correct error regarding the Medicaid birthing expenses; the trial court denied the motion.

Indiana Code 31-14-17-1 states the court "shall order the father to pay at least fifty percent (50%) of the reasonable and necessary expenses of the mother's pregnancy and childbirth, including the cost of:" prenatal care, delivery, hospitalization, and postnatal care. Judge Patricia Riley wrote the baby's medical expenses were incurred because of and immediately following his birth, and the plain language of the statute orders the father to pay 50 percent of expenses of mother's pregnancy and childbirth.

"Any expenses relating to childbirth logically include expenses incurred by the infant during and immediately following birth," Judge Riley wrote.

Meneses also argues the Indiana statute violates the Equal Protection Clause because only unwed fathers can be ordered to pay the expenses and no similar obligation exists for married fathers.

Judge Riley wrote a state's interest in requiring men to provide for children born out-of-wedlock and reimburse medical expenses is a "legitimate goal" because it requires a man to accept financial responsibility similar to what married men do voluntarily.

His rights were not violated because the court did not hold a hearing to determine how much money he would be able to afford to reimburse Medicaid. The federal and state Medicaid statutes for reimbursement don't impose any obligation on the trial court to conduct an inquiry into the father's ability to pay and instead impose a certain financial responsibility upon the father, she wrote.
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