Congress Considers Exempting Tribes From Obamacare

Support is building among tribes for a proposed law in Congress that would exempt Indian tribes from being considered “large employers” under the Affordable Care Act.

Congress is considering a bill that would exempt Indian tribes from being tagged as “large employers” for purposes of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act.

Being considered a large employer means tribes would have to pay higher insurance costs or face penalties. Critics say the requirement shifts the costs of insurance from the federal government to the tribes because, unlike individuals, tribes don’t qualify for federal tax credits.

The bill’s sponsor, Montana Senator Steve Daines, commented last week, “It is critically important that our tribes and tribal employees aren’t penalized due to a hastily written law.”

Support for the largely Republican effort is growing among tribes. In Montana, or example, sponsors of the bill have the support of the Crow, Blackfeet and Fort Peck Reservation’s Assiniboine and Sioux tribes. Last week the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota added its voice, with Tribal President William Kindle writing, “It is a United States treaty obligation to provide health care for members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.”

A congressional remedy may be the only one open to the tribes since a U.S. District judge earlier this month rejected a challenge to the requirement by the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming. He noted that if Congress had wanted to exempt tribes in the law that it could have done so.

According to Caitrin McCarron Shuy, director of congressional relations for the Indian Health Board, quoted by the Associated Press, “I think this is a really critical issue for the tribal community to have to provide health insurance for employees. Under the law, of course as a large employer, tribes are required to provide health insurance. But most of their employees are also their tribal members, are native people who are exempt from the individual mandate. Really the two provisions of this law work at cross purposes from achieving what it was intended.”