I get questions all the time from American Indians and Alaska Natives (including my own relatives!) wondering why they should care about the Affordable Care Act since they already are eligible for the Indian Health Service (IHS). My response is that while the IHS is here to stay and will be available as their healthcare system, the Affordable Care Act brings new options for health coverage. It is another way that the federal government meets its responsibility to provide health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The purpose of the Affordable Care Act is to increase access to quality health coverage for all Americans, including our First Americans. The benefits of the health care law for American Indians and Alaska Natives are significant whether they have insurance now, want to purchase affordable insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace or take advantage of the States expanding Medicaid starting in 2014. Indian elders will benefit from a stronger Medicare with more affordable prescriptions and free preventive services no matter what provider they see. And of course, we're thrilled that the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), our authorizing legislation, was made permanent by the Affordable Care Act.
These new benefits mean potentially more services for individuals and the communities we serve. So we are encouraging every American Indian and Alaska Native to enroll in the Marketplaces starting October 1, 2013 to see what benefits are available to them.
To learn more about how the law is benefiting our community visit: http://www.hhs.gov/healthcare/facts/factsheets/2011/03/americanindianhealth03212011a.html.
To learn more about the Health Insurance Marketplace visit HealthCare.gov.
Dr. Yvette Roubideaux is the acting director of the Indian Health Service.