Tribes Seek Protection Of Native Health Care Gains In "Obamacare" Lawsuit

The National Indian Health Board and a consortium of Tribes and Tribal agencies have filed an amicus brief in the “Obamacare” lawsuit, where a federal judge in Florida ruled the federal government’s landmark healthcare reform unconstitutional. The lawsuit was filed after President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is designed to provide health care coverage to all Americans.

The primary issue in the lawsuit, which is now on appeal, is whether the Constitution allows the federal government to require individual Americans to purchase health care insurance. Over two dozen states joined together to oppose the reform legislation, arguing that the federal government does not have the power to compel individuals to purchase health care insurance. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Florida, and the trial judge ruled the legislation unconstitutional. The matter is now being reviewed by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Within the federal health care reform legislation, there are sections that provide significant benefits for Native American health care programs. The legislation permanently re-authorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which provides funding and administrative support for health care in Native communities throughout the country. In their amicus brief, Tribes have asserted that the portions of the health care legislation that impact Native Americans are constitutional and should be “severed” from any portions of the legislation that are ultimately determined to be unconstitutional. That would allow for funding and other improvements to Tribal health care to continue even if other portions of the new law are overturned.

Interestingly, the portions of the law applicable to Native American health care actually provide and exemption for Native Americans from the individual insurance purchase requirement – which is consistent with the goals of the states seeking to have the new laws overturned. This provides a potential opportunity for agreement between the states and Tribes, where all sides could concur on the validity of the sections that improve health care for Native communities.