Obamacare Available to Native Americans

Health Insurance

November 4, 2015

Are You Native American? Did You Know Obamacare is Available To You?

The Obama administration is trying to reach out to Native Americans to let them know that they too are covered under the new healthcare law. It is believed that most Native Americans are unaware that they are eligible to enroll in Obamacare, so concerted efforts are being made by tribes, government officials and healthcare advocates to not only inform tribal members, but also to enroll them in Obamacare.

Most Native Americans are not enrolled in Obamacare and are often solely reliant on their (free) Indian Health Service (IHS) for their entire healthcare needs, but there are many vital healthcare services that are not covered under IHS. The IHS clinics are equipped to take care of typical chronic healthcare problems, but do not have the capabilities to supply services such as an MRI and other more sophisticated diagnostic testing, which leaves Native Americans lacking in vital healthcare or paying out of pocket.

Getting The Word Out to Tribal Members

The Obama administration is trying to get the word out that when enrolled in the ACA, Native Americans have new choices available to them that the IHS does not offer them and furthermore that enrollment presents financial relief to the overburdened and underfunded Indian hospitals and clinics.

However, this has been a bit of an uphill battle, Native Americans are exempt from the healthcare law and are reluctant to enroll stating they do not have much trust in the federal government to live up to their promises, making Obama’s enrollment goals more challenging. Advocates for the Tribal Nations and tribal leaders are making grass roots efforts to explain to their tribal members that under the ACA Native Americans can be covered by Medicaid, (which is free in most cases) or buy subsidized private insurance through the insurance exchanges which would allow them to receive all treatment modalities they may need such as treatment from private doctors and hospitals rather than having to rely solely on the tribal clinics and government facilities.

Currently Native Americans are Being Underserved

Native Americans current coverage under the IHS has many gaps that Obamacare can easily fill, not only delivering a wider range of healthcare services and facilities, but advocates also believe the ACA can at long last address some of the health disparities that have plagued the 2.2 Native Americans and Alaskan Natives that are scattered among 35 states who currently rely on IHS. Advocates believe that filling the care gap with the ACA will immediately begin reducing rates of diabetes among American Indians which is currently three times the rate of the rest of the U.S. population, while extending their longevity as well which now is four years shorter than the average American’s.

States & ACA Hiring Outreach Organizations to Reach Out to Native Americans

Insurance is a new concept for most Native Americans and coupled with the distrust of the government it will take every ounce of energy grassroots organizations like the Native American Professional Parent Resources outreach coordinator Sonny Weahkee can muster. His job is to travel across the state of New Mexico introducing the ACA, doing outreach and helping tribal members get enrolled in Obamacare, which Native American Professional Parent Resources has a contract with New Mexico to do. The ACA has made special allowances for Native Americans in federally recognized tribes to sign up any time during the year, rather than the designated enrollment periods other Americans are restricted to in order to help facilitate expanded care services sooner by getting tribal members enrolled.

Enrollment Helping IHS Hospitals

According to tribal officials the Indian Health Services (IHS) has collected $49 million dollars in additional revenue due to new enrollees in Obamacare in 2014 alone. The always stretched to the nth degree budget of $4.6 billion to care for 2.2 million American Indians can certainly use the extra funds the ACA is providing. The ACA coverage allows IHS facilities to bill insurers for services they already provide, so having those extra funds means more treatments and additional services for American Indians everywhere. There are no hard figures yet on just how many Native Americans have enrolled, but based on the fact that IHS collected $49 million from billing insurers alone in 2014 there has to be some headway going on in the enrollment of tribal members. And this is very good news for the tribal nations, that at long last our nations most deserving may finally have the same comprehensive coverage, no matter where in the U.S. they live, that they so very much are owed and deserve.