October 16, 2020

Udall, Schumer Lead Panel with National Indian Health Board to Discuss Threat to Native Health if SCOTUS Terminates Affordable Care Act

WASHINGTON—Yesterday, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, led a virtual panel with Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and National Indian Health Board representatives Amber Torres, chairwoman of the Walker River Paiute Tribe, and Nickolaus Lewis, councilman for the Lummi Nation. During the panel, Udall, Schumer, Torres, and Lewis discussed the lasting consequences to Native health if the Affordable Care Act(ACA) is dismantled, as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in California v. Texas. Udall emphasized how Judge Barrett’s potential Supreme Court confirmation and prior criticism of the ACA could threaten the healthcare of two million American Indian and Alaska Natives. 

“If Judge Barrett is confirmed to the highest court in our land, it will absolutely have deep and lasting consequences for Indian Country for years. Potentially even for generations to come,” Udall said.

“The ACA permanently reauthorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and expanded access to health care for Native Americans through marketplace exchanges, Medicaid expansion, and increased revenue for the Indian Health Service,” Udall continued. “Judge Barrett's confirmation threatens to eviscerate the ACA, gut preexisting condition protections for millions of Americans, and throw the Indian Health Service into chaos.”

Udall highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted Native communities. “I believe that confirming a nominee who will dismantle the ACA will exact a cruel toll on Indian Country. It will leave Native communities without the tools they need to fight the COVID-19 pandemic or serve their most vulnerable members, their veterans, elders, and those with chronic health conditions like diabetes and cancer.”

Udall also addressed how ACA repeal would hurt the work to expand health care access for Native American veterans. “Everyone  agrees – event President Trump’s Administration – that the ACA is critical for Native veterans’ health. And, the progress we’ve made with the ACA Native veterans’ provisions has inspired  bipartisan legislative efforts in the House and Senate.  I am currently leading a bill to extend the ACA’s IHS-VA reimbursement authority to include urban Indian health programs…[which] would be completely derailed by ACA repeal … and a decade of progress on Native veteran care would be undone.” 

“Make no mistake, any Senator who votes to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barret to the Supreme Court is voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act and reduce vital health coverage for Native communities,” Schumer said. “Democrats will continue to honor the trust responsibility to provide healthcare to Natives for the treaties we have made.”

Udall previously led a day of action in the Senate to increase awareness about the devastating impacts ACA repeal would have on Indian Country while the chamber considered Republican proposals to dismantle the health care law in 2017. Udall chaired an emergency roundtable to hear directly from Tribal leaders about the importance of the Affordable Care Act for Native health. Udall also delivered a floor speech with several colleagues from the Indian Affairs Committee to encourage more members of Congress to consider Indian country during any discussion about health care.

Udall’s full remarks as prepared are below.

Thank you, Senator Schumer, for kicking off this discussion. It’s absolutely critical that we know what’s at stake for Native healthcare if the ACA is repealed.

As Councilman Lewis just said -- and I agree --there’s a lot at stake right now as Republicans try to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat just days before a presidential election. Including the potential destruction of the Affordable Care Act.

If Judge Barrett is confirmed to the highest court in our land, it will absolutely have deep and lasting consequences for Indian Country for years. Potentially even for generations to come.

This is because the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in early November in California v. Texas, a lawsuit that could result in a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act. 

Judge Barrett has criticized the Supreme Court’s previous ruling that upheld the ACA’s constitutionality – a ruling that preserved health care access for over two million American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Her confirmation threatens to eviscerate the ACA, gut preexisting condition protections for millions of Americans, and throw the Indian Health Service into chaos.

As many of you have seen in your own communities, the ACA – while not perfect – literally saves lives.

The ACA permanently reauthorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and expanded access to healthcare for Native Americans, through marketplace exchanges, Medicaid expansion, and increased revenue for the Indian Health Service.

I believe that confirming a nominee who will dismantle the ACA will exact a cruel toll on Indian Country.

And, it will leave Native communities without the tools they need to fight the COVID-19 pandemic or serve their most vulnerable members – their veterans, elders, and those with chronic health conditions like diabetes and cancer.

I believe this because I heard it from you all in 2017 –the last time the ACA was at risk of repeal. 

Back then, we were debating a partial repeal of the law, and I convened an emergency roundtable to hear from Tribal leaders, Native health practitioners, and the NIHB Board.

The message was very clear – even a partial ACA repeal would be debilitating to Native healthcare.

Now, in 2020, we’re facing a potential full termination of the ACA– and it could be devastating.

So, when we’re talking about what’s at stake with the Supreme Court and the ACA lawsuit, I think it’s important to really emphasize that Native health – your communities’ health – is what’s at stake.

And, I hope today’s panel will be an opportunity to dive in and get a sense of just how much is on the line.