(From a joint senator’s press release)
U.S. Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK), Max Baucus (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Al Franken (D-MN) have co-sponsored legislation to correct an inconsistency in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which could have prevented health care benefits for thousands of Alaska Natives and American Indians.
The current version of the health care law contains several important provisions for Native Americans including permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. However, the law contains several different definitions of “Indian” which led to conflicting interpretations of eligibility for benefits and requirements for coverage. The new legislation introduced broadens the definition of the term Indian within the Affordable Care Act to include all Native Alaskans who are eligible to receive health care under the existing law, which in turn would allow the estimated 14,000 currently without health care to receive fair treatment under the law.
In Alaska, it has been estimated that up to 14,000 Alaska Native people are not enrolled in Alaska Native Corporations and also not enrolled in a tribal government. These individuals have historically been eligible for IHS benefits, and will continue to be, Begich said.
Similar problems affecting health care coverage for Native Americans and Native Hawaiians are likewise addressed in the proposed legislation.
“The Health disparities faced by American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians are appalling and must be addressed at every opportunity,” said Senator Schatz.
This issue had been identified as a problem since 2010 when the legislation was enacted and released to the public. Since then the Health and Human Services Administration has issued what’s known as a hardship waiver to help streamline the definition of Indian in the ACA, to avoid tax penalties for Native American’s who do not carry insurance. However, regulatory statues tend to fluctuate over time and administrative action, however helpful was not a full and permanent fix.