A new law introduced by Trump Administration which requires all Americans to find a job in order to be eligible for Medicaid is seen as a threat to the Native Americans who have been constitutionally protected through age-old laws hammered out centuries ago but may suddenly lose some of the most basic protections such as access to free health care.
New Law Being Implemented in 13 States
Tribal leaders of Native American groups say that they want to be exempted from the new law which require U.S. citizens to work in order to be eligible for Medicaid. The rule is already being implemented in a number of states and the government had denied to make any exceptions for the Native American groups, who are considered a race rather than a separate government by Trump administration.
Tribal leaders argue that the healthcare exceptions have precedents such as the ones set by Obama administration which exempt the Native Americans from penalties in case they don’t have health coverage.
Trump, who has already refused to accept the Native Americans as a separate government, says that exempting the tribes from a rule that applies to all Americans would be considered an illegal preferential treatment. The law has already been implemented in three states and a dozen more are in the process of approving it.
HHS Rejects Request for Exemption
HHS says that it has rejected the tribal leaders’ requests to exemptions for the new healthcare law several times in the past. Medicare and Medicaid Services Centers conveyed the decision to the tribes earlier this year and reinforced it again last month during a meeting with the tribal leaders. Insiders revealed that the new law was ruled by HHS after getting the approval from general counsel appointees and civil rights officers.
HHS Spokesperson said that the health department will cooperate fully with the tribal leaders and be open to any suggestions they may have for improving the new Medicaid project where citizens will have to ‘demonstrate community engagement’ in order to be eligible for healthcare. In other words, Native Americans will have to find jobs or be prepared to bare medical expenses out of their own pockets.
The tribes say that HHS’ argument about racial preferential treatment is invalid since Native Americans have long established their status as a separate government and don’t qualify as a racial group. The rights of the tribes have been protected for centuries through treaties laid out by the first President of the United States, George Washington.
Are Welfare Programs Next?
The protection laws have been reaffirmed over the recent decades by other leaders including Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama. Former Indian Health Service head, Mary Smith, says that the country has a legal obligation for providing healthcare and protection to Native Americans who have paid for the service through sacrifice of their land and people centuries ago.
Smith said that the United States territory belonged to the Native tribes before they were unjustly invaded by Europeans in 1500’s. The least the U.S. government could do to honor their sacrifice is provide them with basic healthcare without any work requirements.
The new law introduced by Trump administration is considered only the beginning. Tribal leaders fear that the government could soon come for other welfare programs that millions of Native Americans benefit from. National Indian Health Board says that, considering the drug overdose death rates, which are the highest among the Native American group, the new laws can prove to be troublesome.
Highest Unemployment Rate in the U.S.
The tribal community has long suffered from high unemployment rates due to racial discrimination which prevents them from getting decent jobs. The new law would only mean that more Native Americans would be left without healthcare, unless the government takes necessary steps to make it easier for the Indian community to find employment. In 2016, the unemployment rate for Native Americans was 12 per cent, almost three times greater than the nation-wide average.
The Indian community has been left with no choice but to turn to Medicaid for healthcare since Indian Health Service receives very little federal funding. There are currently more than 620,000 Native Americans living in the 13 states where preparation for implementation of Medicate work requirement law is already underway.