Navajos won't have to buy into ObamaCare
By Krista Allen
Western Agency Bureau
TUBA CITY, August 29, 2013
P resident Barack Obama on March 23, 2010 signed into law a sweeping healthcare overhaul, handing down to the American people with a stroke of his pen the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), one of the most controversial pieces of legislation of the past several decades.
Colloquially known as "ObamaCare," it passed Congress without a single Republican vote.
The ACA was heralded as a historic achievement for the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats. Opponents, meanwhile, see it as a government intrusion into the private health insurance market and a curtailment of freedom.
Many federal regulations have also been enacted since its passage to implement the details and requirements. These laws are intended to make health insurance more accessible to more people.
The ACA requires most people over the age of 18 to have health coverage (through employer coverage, a government program, or private insurance) by March 31, 2014. Those who don't have coverage may be assessed a tax penalty by the federal government.
The ObamaCare tax penalty, also known as "the individual mandate," will be applied to one's taxable income. The penalty starts for individuals at the greater of $95 or 1 percent of income in 2014, rising to $695 or 2.5 percent of income by 2016.
To understand ObamaCare a little bit better, imagine selling hot naadaa' dootl'izh - k'íneeshbízhii (Blue Corn Mush) for $2 at a stand every Friday at the Tónaneesdizí Flea Market. Say 100 people walk by the stand. Of those people, 50 choose to buy. Twenty-five people don't and the other 25 would be interested but could only afford to pay $1. Then one day the government passes a law that requires everyone to buy K'íneeshbízhii. So what does this mean for the 25 people that didn't want K'íneeshbízhii? They'd have to start paying the $2 a bowl like the existing 50 customers, who would continue to pay the $2 a bowl they've always paid. As for the other 25 people that couldn't afford it, the government would pay the vendor to offer K'íneeshbízhii at $1.
There are also select groups of people who will be exempt from any financial penalties if they do not get health insurance. These groups include American Indians. Thanks to the Constitution, federal laws, multiple treaties and Supreme Court decisions, the government is thus far required to provide healthcare to all American Indians.
So what does ObamaCare mean for the Navajo Nation?
"The (ACA) will affect each of us. It is important that leaders from the chapter level to those in the hospitals and clinics have a good understanding of this new complex system," said Speaker Johnny Naize last week during the Navajo Nation Affordable Care Act Summit at Twin Arrows Casino Resort.
"The good thing is that it renewed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA) that was passed in (1976 with the goal of providing the highest possible health status to the First Americans)," said Associate Executive Officer Lynette Bonar, the chief operating officer at Tuba City Regional Health Care Corp.
ObamaCare, indeed, made the IHCIA permanent, something American Indian health supporters have been requesting for more than a decade.
"It also upheld a couple things to where (American Indians) can't be taxed on healthcare. So when the ACA goes through and they talk about tax penalties for people who don't buy insurance, that does not affect (American Indians)," said Bonar.
TCRHCC officials say they are getting ready for the Affordable Care Act by applying for several grants.
"One of them is called a Navigator Grant," said Bonar. "And what that means is all across the nation, they're trying to get education ready for people so that they know what's out there."
TCRHCC Patient Benefit Coordinator Supervisor Selena Simmons says the grant opportunity is for "navigators" - people who will help consumers shop for insurance in newly created exchanges.
"We're going to have patient benefit coordinators as well," said Simmons. "They're going to go through 30 hours of training to be certified."
"What they do is they try to get people enrolled in Medicaid," the state-run health care system for low-income and disabled people, said Bonar. "The more people we get enrolled in Medicaid, the more revenue our hospital gets, the more money we can put into providing healthcare, because everything that we make, we put back into healthcare."
Contact Krista Allen at email@example.com