Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Native American Caucus to Federal Government: Reject proposed AHCCCS changes

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Members of the Arizona State Legislature’s Native American Caucus recently sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell urging her to deny Arizona’s request for a waiver of certain requirements for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid program. That request was sent pursuant to the recent passage of SB 1092. If the waiver is approved, the state would be allowed to place significant limitations on AHCCCS recipients.

SB 1092 would require that AHCCCS recipients be employed, participating in job training or actively seeking employment, and it would impose a 5-year lifetime enrollment limit on Medicaid benefits. With unemployment rates on Indian reservations at record levels, Native American legislators are concerned that these proposed restrictions would have a devastating impact.

“SB 1092 would put an unbearable stress on Native American communities in Arizona and would represent a continuation of centuries of oppressive treatment of indigenous people,” said Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson (District 9).
Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson (District 3), added that SB 1092 is also problematic because it sets employment requirements but does not provide any funding for employment resources.

“I strongly oppose SB 1092 because it will harm hundreds of thousands of Arizonans. It provides no money for job training programs, which are desperately needed on Indian nations. And the 5-year limit on benefits does not provide people with long-term healthcare,” Gonzales said.

Moreover, SB 1092 will reduce revenue to health care facilities on Indian nations, further harming Native American communities.

“SB 1092 will negatively impact Arizona Native American health care facilities by reducing the amount of revenue they receive.  This may result in a decreased quality of care to all Native American children, families and the elderly.  All Arizonans should be concerned about this legislation,” said Rep. Jennifer Benally, D-Tuba City (District 7).

Sen. Carlyle Begay, D-Ganado (District 7), agreed that SB 1092 will affect health services and that the consequences of the law would disproportionately burden Native Americans.

“SB 1092 would have enormous consequences for Native Americans, as well as the Indian Health Service and tribal and urban Indian providers from whom many Native Americans receive health services. Placing a lifetime limit on Medicaid eligibility and instituting a work verification requirement disproportionally hurts Native American families,” Begay said. “It would also impair critical preventive measures intended to lessen the effects of chronic stress and social marginalization, which remain serious challenges in Native American communities.”

Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), acknowledged moving people off government assistance and toward self-sufficiency is an admirable goal, but not if the process leaves people without the care they need.

“As legislators, we sometimes fail to see or understand the unintended and often very complex consequences of our actions. We affect the lives of every person in Arizona. SB 1092 is an example of the legislature not acknowledging the many consequences of its actions.  Self-sufficiency for all Arizonans is an admirable goal, but when the tools by which people move toward that goal are lacking, we only exacerbate the problems faced by many people in this state.  Without job training and economic development programs on Indian nations, the proposed employment requirements for AHCCCS will be impossible for many people to meet.  I am hopeful that the federal government will see these unintended consequences and reject Arizona’s request for a waiver and thereby not breach its trust responsibility to Native American people.”

All five members of the Native American Caucus voted against passage of SB 1092. The letter to Secretary Burwell can be found below.