TAHLEQUAH — Cherokee citizens are not required to carry health insurance under President Barack Obama’s health reform law, but the Cherokee Nation is encouraging its estimated 46,000 uninsured citizens to consider enrolling, a media release states.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed by Congress in 2010 to reduce the number of uninsured individuals and families across the nation. Under the law, monetary penalties may be levied against individuals who do not carry insurance, or against businesses that employ 50 or more people and do not provide insurance.
The online enrollment period to apply for health insurance opened Oct. 1 and ends March 31. On Jan. 1, coverage for all insurance plans will begin. There are protections and provisions in the law for Native Americans.
• Anyone eligible for Indian Health Service care is exempt from any penalty for being uninsured.
• Federally recognized tribal citizens who wish to sign up for health insurance can do so at any time and do not have to adhere to the open enrollment period.
• Individuals who earn less than $34,470 per year, or those with a family of four earning less than $70,650, can sign up and pay no out-of-pocket expense anywhere they get care.
• Cherokee citizens can already enroll in Medicaid or Medicare at any Cherokee Nation Health Center. Assistance will be available soon for help enrolling in an ACA health insurance marketplace. Cherokee Nation Health Services is in the process of being trained and certified to assist.
• To find organizations by county that provide assistance signing up for an ACA plan, call (877) 836-2111 or (918) 295-1284 or visit www.211oklahomahelpline.org.
“Although our uninsured citizens do have access to excellent health care in our tribal health centers and are exempt under the new law, we still encourage them to sign up for Medicaid or through a health insurance marketplace,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Each visit to a Cherokee Nation health center or contract health visit can then be billed to insurance, which means more resources for the tribe as a whole.”
Tribal citizens referred to non-Cherokee Nation health centers for specialized treatment may also get appointments sooner if they are enrolled in Medicare or through a health insurance marketplace.
About 130,000 patients use Cherokee Nation’s W.W. Hastings Hospital or its eight health centers. Of those, an estimated 46,000 do not have private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. The Cherokee Nation health system saw more than one million patient visits last year. The Cherokee Nation is funded by the federal government at about half its actual health care operational need. Remaining costs are billed to third-party insurers for patients with private insurance or Medicare or Medicaid. Remaining costs are paid out of pocket by the tribe.
Completing an application will show citizens their eligibility status. For general information on the Affordable Care Act, visit www.tribalhealthcare.org or www.healthcare.gov or call Cherokee Nation Health Services Special Projects Officer Connie Dunavin: (918) 772-4088 or 453-5657.
Check www.cherokee.org for updates on ACA information as they become available.
What to do
Cherokee Nation Health Service officials will be on hand to talk to citizens about the Affordable Care Act at the following scheduled community meetings:
• Today — Tribal Councilor Don Garvin will host a community meeting for Muskogee County at 5:30 p.m. at Three Rivers Health Center in Muskogee. Cherokee Nation Tribal Registration will be doing photo IDs, Principal Chief Bill John Baker is slated to speak, and food is provided.
• Monday — 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The annual community meeting hosted by Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilors Tina Glory Jordan, Joe Byrd and David Walkingstick will be held in Tahlequah at the Tahlequah Community Building. Information on Cherokee Nation programs will be available, photo IDs will be taken, free flu shots will be available, a brisket dinner will be served, and door prizes will be distributed.