Bill shields tribes from Affordable Care Act employer mandate

Editor's Note: The original version of this post included a quote from the chairman of the Fort Peck Tribes. The quote was taken from a press release issued by the office of Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana). The tribe, however, did not authorize the quote for inclusion in that press release so it has been removed from this post at the request of the tribe.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana). Photo from Senate Committee on Indian Affairs / Flickr

Tribes will be exempt from Affordable Care Act regulations affecting "large" employers under a bill introduced in Congress today.

The large employer mandate applies to any entity with more than 50 full-time employees. Those that fail to provide health coverage to their workers face fines, a situation that lawmakers from Montana say is unfair to Indian Country.

"Tribes should not be forced to pay severe fines due to duplicative federal mandates in the president’s flawed health care law,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) said in a press release. “These unreasonable fines have the potential to kill jobs and further cripple tribes’ economies. It is critically important that our tribes and tribal employees aren’t penalized due to a hastily written law.”

“Because ObamaCare was poorly written and passed before anyone had a chance to even read it, tribal government and businesses are facing steep fines that threaten jobs and the economic livelihood of thousands of families," added Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana). "Unemployment rates on reservations already reach as high as 50 percent due to failed policies like the war on coal; further burdens on the tribes with high fines and increased bureaucracy only adds insult to injury.”

According to Daines and Zinke, tribes in Montana are facing severe penalties for failing to comply with the mandate. The Blackfeet Nation could be hit with a $1.1 million fine while the Crow Tribe said it was facing a $1.6 million penalty. The Fort Peck Tribes are looking at a $1.2 million fine.

In neighboring Wyoming, the Northern Arapaho Tribe challenged the mandate in a lawsuit in federal court. But Judge Scott Skavdahl ruled that Congress did not exempt Indian Country from the requirement in a July 2 decision.

The tribe was helping employees -- many of whom are Native American and receive some of their care through the Indian Health Service -- obtain health coverage through The mandate, on the other hand, forces the tribe to provide insurance that will not be as effective, the lawsuit alleged.

"We are working hard to improve health care for tribal members and to get more of our people onto health insurance," Chairman Dean Goggles told the Associated Press. "We think that's what Congress wanted, too, when it passed the Affordable Care Act."

The tribe is considering an appeal of the decision, Goggles told the AP. He also said the tribe is interested in a fix like the one found in the Tribal Employment and Jobs Protection Act that was introduced today.

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