Employees at an Indian Health Service facility in Cass Lake, Minnesota. Photo: IHS

Democrats host session on impacts of GOP health bill in Indian Country

With the Republican health care reform bill in dire straits, Democrats are hosting a forum to discuss the "devastating impacts" of the proposal in Indian Country.

Representatives of the National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Health Board, the United South and Eastern Tribes and the National Council on Urban Indian Health are expected to testify at the listening session, which takes place in Washington, D.C., at 9:30am Eastern. The forum will be webcast at youtu.be/K1PwytkX8E8.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, is hosting the session. He will be joined by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada).

Republican leaders were hoping to start debate on the Better Care Reconciliation Act as soon as Tuesday. But members of their own party are refusing to support the bill, making passage all but impossible.

“There are serious problems with Obamacare, and my goal remains what it has been for a long time: to repeal and replace it,” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) said in a statement on Monday night that spelled doom for the GOP bill. “This closed-door process has yielded the BCRA, which fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare’s rising costs. For the same reasons I could not support the previous version of this bill, I cannot support this one.”

The Better Care Reconciliation Act does not affect the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which was made permanent by the Affordable Care Act in 2010. But the Republican proposal makes reduces funding to Medicaid and makes other changes that would impact the Indian Health Service.

"BCRA would cut Medicaid by $772 billion over a decade and phase out the expansion by 2024," the National Indian Health Board said in a legislative alert. "Many tribes in expansion states have seen significant gains in coverage for their members. The proposed rollback has caused serious concern in Indian Country because of the dollars that would be lost."

"For over 40 years, Medicaid funding has helped supplement resources going to the Indian health system due to the historic underfunding of the Indian Health Service," the organization said.

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