Sen. Murkowski Pushes For Tweaks To Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act has special provisions for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

They’re exempt from the individual mandate requiring Americans to purchase health insurance, since they’re already entitled to health care through the Indian Health Service.

If they do sign up for health insurance, they pay lower out-of-pocket fees in some cases. But the law’s definition of who qualifies is narrow. A person has to be enrolled in a tribe or hold shares in an Alaska Native corporation.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski says a significant number of Alaska Natives who are eligible for IHS benefits don’t meet that definition, particularly if they were born after most Native corporations stopped enrolling members in the 1970s. Murkowski last week wrote a letter to Health Secretary Sylvia Burwell to protest the narrow definition.

At a hearing this spring, an administration official told her the definition is part of the law, so the change would have to come from Congress. Murkowski, though, says the administration has made dozens of changes that appear to contradict the statutory language of the Affordable Care Act, particularly to stretch deadlines. She asked for one more administrative change, to benefit Alaska Natives.