Murkowski Bill Fixes Definition of “Indian” in Affordable Care Act

Senator Murkowski recently introduced legislation to clarify the meaning of “Indian” within the Affordable Care Act—ensuring that Alaska Natives aren’t denied Indian-specific exemptions and protections under the law. The current definition of “Indian” within the ACA applies to only “members of federally-recognized tribes” or shareholders of an Alaska Native corporation—potentially excluding up to 20,000 Alaska Natives. Many young Alaska Natives are not shareholders in Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) corporations because enrollment in these the corporations ended in the 1970s, and very few have opened shareholder enrollment to those born after the passage of ANCSA.

“The Obama administration has unilaterally changed or delayed over 30 provisions of the ACA when it has suited their interest, and I am demanding one more change to ensure Alaska Natives are guaranteed the exemptions promised to them,” said Murkowski.

Murkowski’s legislation would correct the inconsistencies of the meaning of “Indian” in the ACA so that tribal members are afforded the benefits and protections of the law. This includes an exemption from the individual mandate requiring Americans to purchase health insurance, since many Alaska Natives are already eligible for healthcare through the Indian Health Service.

This legislation is co-sponsored by Senator Dan Sullivan.

Background: Senator Murkowski wrote a letter (attached) in June 2015 to Health Secretary Sylvia Burwell to protest the narrow definition. Murkowski also brought up this issue to Indian Health Service Interim Direct Dr. Yvette Roubideaux at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing.