By Hannah Colton
Congressional Republicans maintain that the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which narrowly passed Thursday in the U.S. House of Representatives, will not significantly affect those in the Indian health system.
Republican U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, a member of the Cherokee Nation, says the bill entirely preserves the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, a decades-old law that commits federal funding to tribal health care across the country.
“This doesn’t make any change to Indian Health Services. In fact, the whole section on IHS was left completely alone,” said Rep. Mullin.
The fact that the bill doesn’t touch IHS doesn’t mean it would leave American Indians and Alaska Natives unaffected. The plan would make major cuts to Medicaid, and a New York Times analysis counts older Americans, the poor and people with pre-existing conditions among those who would pay more and/or lose insurance coverage under the AHCA.
“All we did with Medicaid is restore it back to what its intended purpose was,” Mullin said. “That is to be state-run and to fall underneath the four categories it was designed for: the elderly, the disabled, the pregnant mother who is single and low-income, and the child.”
The new AHCA was sent to a House vote so quickly the Congressional Budget Office did not have time to calculate its expected impact beforehand. The CBO’s analysis of an earlier version of the bill, however, projected it would ultimately cause 24 million people to lose their insurance coverage.
The current bill now faces an uphill battle in the Senate. The Fairbanks Daily News Miner reports Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska indicated the Senate will likely take its time drafting a separate healthcare bill.
Murkowski is on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which will play a large role in drafting that bill. In a statement Thursday, she said she’ll work to ensure health care reform doesn’t “pull the rug out from those who currently receive coverage.”
“While we work to fix the broken current health-care system,” Murkowski wrote, “I recognize the need to maintain provisions that have worked: the prohibitions on discrimination for pre-existing conditions, no annual or lifetime limits, coverage up to age 26, and Medicaid expansion.”
A spokesman for Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan told the News-Miner he wants to ensure the Senate’s rewrite of the health care bill protects the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act.