HHS secretary makes reform commitment to Indians

WASHINGTON – The nation’s top health official has told Indian country health leaders that the Obama administration believes American Indians deserve special consideration in any national reform to health insurance.

Speaking today on Capitol Hill before an audience of Indian health leaders, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius noted that President Barack Obama himself said in an appearance before a joint session of Congress Sept. 9 that he supports a mandate that says individuals must purchase health insurance, much like car insurance.

But Sebelius said clarification was needed for Indian country.

“I’m going to make it very clear. ... this is what was left out on Wednesday night: the administration strongly believes that the individual mandate and the subsequent penalties don’t apply to American Indians or Alaska Natives.”

Sebelius’ words met with loud applause from the hundreds of Native leaders who gathered in the nation’s capitol for a meeting of the National Indian Health Board advocacy organization.

The comment was noteworthy, said IHS Director Yvette Roubideaux, as the Obama administration hasn’t to date laid out its specific health policies. Nor has it made many specific policy commitments to American Indians and Alaska Natives.