By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Republican-driven House of Representatives voted 245-189 on Wednesday, Jan. 19 to repeal the Affordable Healthcare for America Act which included the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Looked at as a mostly symbolic act as the Democratic-majority Senate would be unlikely to vote along for the repeal, what would a possible repeal mean for Indian Country?
“A vote to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act would only turn back the clock on the real progress we are making toward ensuring that Native Americans have access to quality affordable health care,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar the day after the vote. “The Affordable Care Act included landmark legislation that permanently reauthorizes the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which is so important to modernizing and improving the health care provided by the Indian Health Service to American Indians and Alaska Natives.”
According to information from the DOI, if the Act is repealed, several key provisions would be taken away from American Indians including: tax exclusions for individuals whose Tribes have purchased health insurances for its enrolled members, exemption from tax penalties for those who don’t enroll in an exchange plan, and allowing tribes to purchase federal insurance for employees.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, agrees with Salazars’s sentiments. “Rolling back these health care reforms would be a serious setback for the health of American Indian communities everywhere. Native American communities need more health care, not less, and the Republican efforts to take away patient rights will affect millions of our citizens, neighbors, friends and family members.”
The Republicans were supported by three Democrats including Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK) whose district includes parts of the Cherokee Nation. “Like most Oklahomans, I support common-sense health care reforms such as preventing insurance companies from denying individuals with pre-existing conditions, allowing children to stay on their parents insurance until they are 26, and making it illegal to drop someone because they are sick,” he said. “However, when taken as a whole, the health care legislation adds far too many taxes, mandates, and regulations that burden Oklahoma families and prevent our nation’s job creators from producing the kind of economic growth that is sorely needed.”
Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC), whose district includes the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, voted against the repeal stating, “The American people expect Congress to find real solutions to the challenges facing us, not continue divisive partisan bickering. The healthcare legislation that passed last year had serious flaws, and we should be working to solve those problems.”
While not specifically addressing Indian Country, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Visick said in a statement on Thursday that a repeal would have vast affects on rural Americans, a category many American Indians fit into. “Approximately 80 percent of rural Americans are self employed or work for a small business. The law is bringing down their health care costs and the tax incentives it provides will help small businesses hire more people and provide health care coverage to employees.”