House Judiciary Committee Supports Medicaid Tribal Opt-Out

Feb 20, 2013

A bill that would prohibit the mandatory enrollment of Native Americans in the states Medicaid managed care program, Centennial Care, has passed through the House Judiciary Committee unanimously.

Under Centennial Care, Native Medicaid users would be mandated to enroll in a managed care organization, could still use the Indian Health Service, Tribal or urban clinic - collectively known as I/T/U's - but the I/T/U would then have to bill the managed care organization for services instead of the state. Tribal opponents of Centennial Care say that style of payment system could cause serious hang ups for reimbursement to I/T/U's which rely heavily on fees from Medicaid.

With House Bill 376, New Mexico's Pueblos, Nations and Tribes say they are working to preserve tribal sovereignty and the ability for Native Americans to choose where they get their healthcare by providing an opt-out for tribal members.

In a unanimous vote, the House Judiciary Committee approved HB 376, which would stop the state from obtaining a waiver to circumvent federal protections, which proponents say, prohibit the involuntary enrollment of Native Americans into managed care.

Staff attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, Quela Robinson, says the bill could impact up to 125,000 Tribal citizens in the state.

"What this does is fight the ability of the state to outsource the care of Native Americans to national corporations with no cultural or geographic presence in the community," says Robinson. "Bills like this are affirmative efforts to preserve tribal sovereignty. To allow the communities that are affected by policies to have an active say in how these things are implemented."

New Mexico's Human Services Department opposes the bill but would not comment on the Committees vote. HB 376 is expected to go to the House floor next week.