Montana insurance marketplace offers good coverage for Native Americans

2013-09-29T00:15:00Z 2013-10-19T06:49:04Z Montana insurance marketplace offers good coverage for Native AmericansBy MIKE DENNISON Lee Montana Newspapers The Billings Gazette
September 29, 2013 12:15 am  • 

HELENA — For Native Americans in Montana, the Affordable Care Act’s new health insurance marketplace offers a deal that’s hard to beat.

Like any other Montanans, Native Americans can shop the marketplace on the Internet starting Tuesday, buy a policy from one of three private insurers and get subsidies to help pay for it.

The actual cost of the policy will depend on the consumer’s age, where they live, how many people are in the family and their income, which determines the subsidy.

But many Native American families also can get something that no other marketplace shopper can get: A policy with no deductibles, no co-payments and no coinsurance — essentially, 100 percent coverage.

This policy is available to Native Americans who earn anywhere from 100 percent to 300 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s a range of $11,490 to $34,470 for a single person and $23,500 to $70,650 for a family of four.

Bernie Azure, spokesman for the Tribal Health and Human Services Department on Western Montana’s Flathead Reservation, said the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and local partners will make a special effort to encourage Indian families to consider buying private policies on the marketplace.

Tribal members in Montana are covered by the federal Indian Health Service, but the IHS is “woefully underfunded” and pays for only about half the needed services of its covered population, Azure said.

The IHS limits what it covers, and generally won’t pay for services that aren’t considered emergencies, he said.

Private health insurance policies bought through the marketplace can help fill that gap for Native Americans, Azure said — and also cover health care that Indians have been promised through various treaty rights.

Getting the word out on the private insurance policies won’t necessarily be easy, Azure said.

He said a contractor working with an insurance company will be going door to door on the Flathead Reservation to talk with tribal members, telling them how working with a private health insurer can stretch their health care dollars and broaden their health care choices. Many Indian families have known only the services funded by IHS, he said.

“Another big hang-up is that some people don’t have access to the Internet,” he said. “We’ll be getting that information (on the marketplace) to them. And we’ll have information at the clinics on the reservation.”

An added benefit, if tribal members sign up for the private health policies, is creating more revenue for the Tribal Health Department, which plans to upgrade and expand its clinics, Azure said. The health department expansion not only will provide better health care to more tribal members, but also create good-paying jobs on the reservation, he said.

“It’s a revenue-generating thing, and health care is going to be here forever,” Azure said.

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