The Second Osage Nation Congress approved a $4 million supplement for the health benefit card fund Sept. 28 which will go toward replenishing the $500 health debit cards for the 2011 calendar year.
The $4 million supplement appropriation bill (ONCA 10-91) passed with a 7-3 vote after it was successfully advanced for a final vote. The bill’s sponsor is Congresswoman Shannon Edwards.
According to the bill, 8,068 Osages enrolled in the health benefit card program between February and August of this year. If each member of the Nation, currently enrolled in the program, uses the entire $500 by the end of the 2010 calendar year, the Nation will pay out more than $4 million in claims.
“In order to ensure that there is adequate funding for each member to receive $500 and to make that promise and to be able to keep it, we need to replenish the fund for next year,” Edwards said during session. “In the next year beyond that, we’ll be able to look and see what kind of funding we have there… and the possibility is that you will not have to provide funding in year three because there will be adequate funds in the fund to carry forward.”
The $500 debit card covers payment for all items that the Internal Revenue Service considers tax-deductible medical expenses. The debit card covers most medical expenses except for abortions, which the First ON Congress declined to fund.
“This is a new program for the people, this is a benefit for the people, it’s unique, it’s one of the only in the country,” said Edwards, “And it’s the one thing that the Nation’s doing to benefit all Osages. I would encourage that we fund that for next year because in the absence of that, I don’t know if we can guarantee that we will have the health benefit starting in January.”
Congressman William “Kugee” Supernaw spoke against Edwards’s bill Tuesday.
“I’m not against funding this in the future and I’m not against continuing it, but I think it’s bad timing to put $4 million into this now because… we have $3 million left in the program and it’s being expended at the rate of $15-to-$20,000 a month,” Supernaw told Congress. “So by the end of the fiscal year, we will have spent approximately $240,000 of that money. So there will still be over $2.5 million to begin the next year. We have plenty of time to consider additional amounts if the spending accelerates.”
Edwards sponsored the original legislation creating the $500 health benefit card which was passed by Congress during the 2008 Tzi-Zho Session. The starting appropriation passed by Congress for the health card program was $5.1 million.
Supernaw also brought up the ongoing issue of putting the three Osage Million Dollar Elm casino properties into trust, which is an effort underway because of the recent 10th Circuit Court case decision on the Osage Reservation’s status. “We don’t know what we’re going to be facing, we might need the $4 million just to keep people working.”
Edward defended the bill amount before the Congress voted. “It takes into account that additional people could sign up during the year,” she said, adding the timing of the bill allows for the third-party administrator to prepare for the 2011 calendar year.
Voting for the health card appropriation bill was Edwards, Congressmen Raymond Red Corn, Geoffrey Standing Bear, Daniel Boone, John Free, Congresswoman Alice Goodfox and Speaker Jerri Jean Branstetter. Absent for Tuesday’s votes were Congressmen Archie Mason and Mark Simms. Simms missed due to food poisoning and Mason missed due to a family emergency.
Supernaw voted against the bill, as did Congressmen Eddy Red Eagle and Anthony Shackelford.
ONCA 10-91 was sent to Principal Chief John Red Eagle’s office for his review and any action to be taken.
ON Health and Wellness Advisory Board extended one year
Also on Sept. 28, Congress voted 9-1 to pass a bill extending the life of the Nation’s Health and Wellness Advisory Board.
ONCA 10-89, sponsored by Red Corn, extends the life of the advisory board by one year. Voting against this bill was Shackelford.
The board was created through a 2007 legislation bill to start developing the structure of the Nation’s Health and Wellness Division. But the bill (ONCA 07-59) states the board will be “disestablished after a period of three years from the effective date.” Former Principal Chief Jim Gray signed the bill on Oct.3 of that year after the First Osage Nation Congress passed the bill with a 7-4 vote.
Health and Wellness Advisory Board members are Ron Shaw, M.D., Tim Tall Chief, Paul Stabler and Cecelia Tallchief.