Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

Tribal Health ACA recruiters to cast a huge net this summer

By B.L. Azure

ST. IGNATIUS — The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Tribal Health and Human Services Department is going to hire five Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) — Obamacare — recruiters that will be knocking on the doors of tribal people’s residences this summer throughout the Flathead Indian Reservation. They will assist tribal people enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace (HIM) for health insurance coverage under the auspices of Obamacare.

“We want the recruiters we hire to be knowledgeable about health care, tribal people and the Affordable Care Act,” said THHS Director Kevin Howlett. “We also want them exude a high level of comfort with tribal people when they sit down and discuss the Affordable Care Act with them.”

Getting tribal people, who access health care through Tribal Heath, signed up for health insurance in the HIM will do a couple of things. First and foremost it would help with the financial strain on the Tribal Health budget as well as the Indian Health Service’s Contract Health Services budget. The latter is presently only funding “life or limb” medical procedures due to its woefully underfunded budget that meets less than 50 percent of demonstrated need. And folks who sign up for Obamacare coverage will have access to a wider array of health care services than those presently available either at Tribal Health or at third-party providers. (See sidebar).

There are exemptions to the monetary requirements like co-pays and deductions, and tax penalty mandates of Obamacare for American Indians and Alaska Natives. (See sidebar).

“We need to get people signed up on the Affordable Care Act. We did community meetings (this winter) but they weren’t well attended,” Howlett said. “With these five positions we will conduct door-to-door recruitment. We want to make sure people understand the Affordable Care Act. We will have answers to any questions they may have about the law, and help people enrollment in it.”

Howlett said due to treaties and subsequent federal laws and policies related to the provision of health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives, they haven’t had the same experience as the rest of American in the health care arena. Consequently private health insurance coverage, unless it is with an employer, is new to the fold.

“American Indians, our tribal people, for the moat part, didn’t have to worry about things like health insurance before,” Howlett said. “Our goal is to do all we can to ensure our (THHS) patient population has access to quality health care whether that’s at Tribal Health clinics or elsewhere.”

Around 400 employees of the Tribes opted out of coverage by the Tribes’ employee insurance provider. As a result the employees that didn’t sign up are ineligible for coverage under the auspices of the ACA. They however can still access Tribal Health clinics and its medical personnel.

The five temporary ACA recruiter positions will be advertised the first part of April. The five hired will work under a three-month contract for the months of May, June and July. The five will have to meet qualifications and will undergo a background check. Once hired, they will be trained about the ACA with a focus on how it affects Indian people. The goal for them is to get 2,000 tribal people enrolled in the Affordable Care Act.

“Going door to door and visiting with people about the Affordable Care Act will be very helpful. We can assist them find a health coverage program they qualify for and help them get enrolled in the one that best fits their needs,” Howlett said. “They (recruiters) won’t be working a regular schedule but will work a flex schedule tailored to how they can best meet with families and individuals when it’s convenient for them whether it’s in the evenings or the weekends or during the lunch hour. We want our recruiters to be available when the families want to have the discussion about the Affordable Care Act.”

It really is a discussion worth having since it is a new day with a new way for health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

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