By Julian Hattem - 10/17/13 09:56 PM EDT
Five Senate Democrats are sponsoring a bill that tries to fix what they call an oversight in how Native Americans and Alaskan Natives are treated under ObamaCare.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains a number of special provisions for Native Americans, including an exemption from the requirement that all Americans obtain health insurance, known as the individual mandate.
The lawmakers are concerned, however, that the current law contains multiple definitions of “Indian,” which can lead to inconsistent benefits.
The healthcare law only recognizes Native Americans who are members of a federally recognized tribe or corporation.
That’s a narrower definition than is used by Medicaid, however, as well as the Indian Health Service, which provides health services to Native American communities.
As a result, people recognized by those programs but who aren’t members of tribes could miss out on special cost-sharing provisions provided for them under the ACA. They also could lose their ability to enroll in plans bought in new health insurance marketplaces on a month-to-month basis, rather than during certain enrollment periods.
The new bill would align the Affordable Care Act definition of Native Americans and Alaska Natives to that used by other laws.
“I have heard from Alaska Tribal Health organizations for months about the urgent need to introduce legislation that will serve as a technical fix within the ACA to broaden the definition of Indian as applied to Alaska Natives,” said Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska).
Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a regulation making sure that the discrepancy between different health programs would not force Native Americans to pay a tax penalty for going without health insurance. Tribal health advocates, though, say that legislation is required to cement that exemption.
Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) also co-sponsored the legislation.