WASHINGTON — On Nov. 15, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye took a hard stance against a Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) policy that imposes work requirements on individuals as a condition of eligibility for health insurance.
The CMS in January unveiled a policy requiring work or community engagement from “non-elderly, non-pregnant adult Medicaid beneficiaries who are eligible for Medicaid on a basis other than disability.” In a letter to tribal leaders, the CMS claimed that allowing policy waivers would violate federal civil rights laws that bar discrimination based on race or national origin.
In his statements to CMS officials attending the Tribal Technical Advisory Group, Begaye reiterated his opposition to the work requirements, which seek to categorize tribes as racial groups instead of sovereign nations.
“This ill-considered action undermines tribal sovereignty, disregards the Constitution, ignores Supreme Court decisions and violates the treaties between the federal government and Indian tribes,” Begaye said. “This policy represents a fundamental misunderstanding of federal Indian policy and a mischaracterization of Indian tribes as a racial group. On behalf of all tribes, the Navajo Nation asks that CMS provide Native people with access to health care as promised through our long-standing treaty rights and prior negotiations with the federal government.”
Begaye also called attention to a House Appropriations Committee report that accompanied a federal spending bill signed Sept. 26. The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, provided stopgap funding for the departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education, and a supplemental report includes language that addresses the Medicaid work requirements issue.
The report, written by Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican who is also a member of the Chickasaw Nation, states that federally recognized Indian tribes are sovereign nations residing within states — but for which the federal government has trust responsibilities.
Information provided by the Office of the President.