Cherokee Principal Chief Bill John Baker
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – As the U.S. Senate moves to consider several different plans to dismantle the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker sent a letter to Oklahoma Senators Jim Inhofe and James Lankford this week, urging them to vote no on any repeal. Measures being debated before the Senate range from a repeal-only plan to a repeal-and-replace plan. One such bill narrowly passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Every measure being considered before the Senate includes deep cuts to Medicaid that are critical to funding Native American health care.
“Please keep in mind what kind of impact such a bill would have on the Cherokee Nation and other tribes in Oklahoma,” Baker’s letter states. “Remember, Native Americans are a uniquely vulnerable population and uniquely situated in the Medicaid program. Transforming the Medicaid program to a per capita or block grant program would ultimately mean fewer services for Medicaid recipients. It would also threaten tribal sovereignty by placing states in the role of fulfilling the federal trust responsibility; strain the Indian Health Service, Tribal and Urban Indian Health care systems; and create a burden on tribal members.”
Cherokee Nation and other tribal health care providers rely on a combination of funding from the Indian Health Service, Medicaid, Medicare and other sources, including private insurance and ACA Marketplace plans that some patients voluntarily obtain. As a closed health system for Native Americans, many Cherokees and other tribal citizens seek treatment at tribal facilities from cradle to grave.
Medicaid, which provides health coverage for eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and the disabled, has become even more critical as the opioid epidemic in the United States continues to grow. Children born addicted to these highly potent drugs may suffer serious long-term developmental delays or even permanent health problems such as stunted growth, vision or hearing loss, respiratory and heart disease or other serious health issues. Permanently disabled children may depend on Medicaid funding to live independent lives, or even simply to survive.
“Our children are the future of our tribe,” said Nikki Baker-Limore, executive director of Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare. “If this epidemic continues, we’re talking about destroying the future of the tribe. Without our children, you can’t go on.”
The number of children born addicted to opioids in the Cherokee Nation health system mirrors national statistics, more than doubling and nearly tripling since 2012. Many of those helpless newborns rely heavily on Medicaid.
In his letter, Chief Baker goes on to say the tribe urges Oklahoma’s Senate delegation to “oppose any bill that contains deep cuts to Medicaid or has the potential to harm the Native Americans in your state.”
Cherokee Nation News Release
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