What Alaska Natives need to know about the Affordable Care Act

For most Americans, the deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is March 31. For American Indians and Alaska Natives, the process is a little different.

Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, United Way, and the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium have teamed up at Juneau’s Gold Medal Basketball Tournament to inform as many Alaska Natives as possible.

Jamie Paddock traveled from Hoonah to cheer on her hometown team. Attending Gold Medal is an annual tradition.

In between games, she visits a health care information table.

“My grandfather told me I might win a gift card if I sign up here,” Paddock says.

Paddock isn’t actually signing up for anything. She’s filling out an Indian Status Exemption form.

“It’s a little bit of a complicated form even though it’s pretty short. It’s only three pages but there are some tricky questions,” says Monique Martin with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. “And it just means that if you don’t have health insurance you could face a tax penalty and if you send in that exemption that gives you a lifetime exemption from the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.”

Paddock’s heath care provider is Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, which doesn’t require insurance. But she does have Blue Cross as well as Medicaid.

“We have a very robust tribal health system in the state of Alaska. The exemption is to acknowledge that Alaska Natives and American Indians have access to tribal health and Indian Health Services to get their health care needs met,” Martin says.

Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium is targeting almost 50,000 Alaska Natives without insurance. They’re the ones who could face a tax penalty.

“The exemption form does not eliminate your ability to get insurance either at healthcare.gov or through an employer. It just covers you in the case that you have a gap in your insurance coverage,” Martin says.

So far, the tribal health consortium has helped fill out more than 2,200 Indian Status Exemption forms. One form can cover an individual or family.

“We’ve also sent out thousands of emails or also we print them up and mail them to people in rural parts of our state,” Martin says.

Only a paper version of the exemption form is available this year. You print it, fill it in, and mail it. Or have it all done at Gold Medal.

“Don’t forget to include a copy of either a tribal enrollment card or some proof that you’re an ANCSA shareholder or a copy of your Certificate of Indian Blood card issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. If you don’t, the feds will send you back a letter saying your application is not complete,” Martin explains.

A health care information table will be at Gold Medal through Saturday.

“We’ve been from Barrow to Ketchikan, from Bethel to Fairbanks, Iliamna, Dillingham, Kotzebue, Nome. We’ve been to lots and lots of places to spread the word,” Martin says.

Open enrollment for Alaska Natives interested in getting health insurance is ongoing; there is no deadline.

And Alaska Natives have until the end of the year to submit an Indian Status Exemption form, although if you do it at Gold Medal, you could win a gift card.

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