Since its founding in the 1950s, the Indian Health Service has provided medical care for many Native Americans. But the service has been chronically underfunded, so often pays for care only if someone is in immediate danger of losing life or limb. In recent years, the Affordable Care Act created new health coverage opportunities for more than half a million Native Americans and Alaska Natives — and created jobs in Indian country, too.
The Blackfeet Community Hospital in Browning, Mont., is one example of this trend. It’s the only hospital on the Blackfeet reservation, and traditionally got most of its funds from the Indian Health Service. Then, last year, Montana expanded Medicaid. That program, jointly funded by the federal and state governments to cover the health needs of people with low incomes, now covers about one in seven people who live on the Blackfeet reservation. And still more reservation residents have bought subsidized health insurance on the exchange.
So Blackfeet Community Hospital now needs an infrastructure to deal with the paperwork that comes with accepting Medicaid or private insurance. The hospital has hired new administrators, including Blackfeet tribal member Gerald Murray.
“Whatever’s not paid, I go through and make sure it’s all paid,” Murray says.
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