Published September 24, 2017
Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports
First: A fantasy. Wouldn’t it be cool if once, just once, there was a debate in Congress that could only be decided by a vote that benefits Native people? I don’t know. Something like, “I won’t vote for any bill unless it fulfills the treaty obligations that the United States has promised Native people.” It could happen, right?
Well the current Senate debate on health care has a twist on this pipe dream. States are complaining about the burden, that’s right, the burden of Native American health care. So here’s the deal now: When an eligible Native American gets services through the Indian Health system, the cost is a 100 percent federal obligation. But, if that person or family is on Medicaid they could also get care from any provider. In that case the state would have to pay its share of the cost as it does for any other citizen.
As the Kaiser Family Foundation points out: “Just as with other eligible individuals, AIANs who meet state eligibility standards are entitled to Medicaid coverage in the state in which they reside. AIANs may qualify for Medicaid regardless of whether they are a member of a federally-recognized Tribe, whether they live on or off a reservation, and whether they receive services (or are eligible to receive services) at an IHS- or Tribally-operated hospital or clinic. AIANs with Medicaid can access care through all providers who accept Medicaid for all Medicaid covered benefits. As such, they have access to a broader array of services and providers than those who rely solely on IHS services for care. Moreover, Medicaid has special eligibility rules and provides specific consumer protections to AIANs.”
The Graham-Cassidy plan would change that by making this cost a 100 percent federal obligation. States would be off the hook.
This is where it gets screwy. There are legitimate state concerns — basically it’s a complicated maze to figure out a patient’s path and how the money flows. But it’s still a benefit for states because Native people are citizens and so a full-federal match for most costs is a net gain.
South Dakota (a state that did not expand Medicaid) would gain $795 million from a block grant, but would still lose a significant share of its health care funding between 2020 and 2026, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But (and I can’t believe I am writing this sentence) Sen. Mike Rounds told South Dakota Public Radio that the state would get a “large chunk of funds would cover 100 percent of the healthcare costs for Native Americans who receive Medicaid. Right now, the Affordable Care Act requires a state match.”
This is a fraction of what the state will lose — so this is a straight-faced claim that Native health care is a burden. (Remember this cost is only for tribal citizens who do not use Indian Health Service, a small slice of the population.)
South Dakota is not alone. A state legislative report in Arizona estimated that the state will lose a third of its Medicaid funding ($3.8 billion now, $4.9 billion by 2020). But according to the Capitol Media Services of the Arizona Daily Star, Gov. Doug Ducey dismisses those losses because the numbers are not from an independent review. Yet there is not enough time for the Senate to get a Congressional Budget Office assessment by the September 30 deadline. So this is all being made up on the fly.
“Christina Corieri, the governor’s health policy advisor, said one of those provisions would free the state of its financial obligations to share the cost when Native Americans get care at non-Indian Health Service facilities,” the Arizona Daily Star said. Corieri “could not say what that number would save Arizona other than ‘it’s a very large number.’”
There are roughly 130,000 Native Americans in Arizona on Medicaid, about 6 percent of the state’s version of Medicaid, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. And of that, we’re talking about a subset, those who choose to go outside of the Indian health system. It’s just not a very large number. Period.
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports