Government , Health

ON Congress passes Health Benefit law amendments, allowing two years of accruals for elders

During its Jan 15 special session, the Seventh Osage Nation Congress unanimously approved amendments to the Health Benefit Act to clarify the enrollment period, to authorize the use of accrued benefits from 2019 and 2020 and to reinstate two years of accrued benefits for elders over age 65.

The single-day special session ended with a 12-0 vote after debate and discussion on bill ONCA 21-14 (sponsored by Congresswoman Paula Stabler) initially filed to clarify the enrollment period and to authorize the two years of accrued benefits for those who use the Nation’s health benefit program with Osages under age 65 receiving $500 annually and elders over age 65 receiving $1,000 annually. The bill and its amendments do not impact those who are enrolled in the Medicare Plan F and Part D prescription drug coverage to Osages age 65 and over.

During the Jan 15 special session, Congress also considered and debated four proposed amendments to ONCA 21-14 with three filed by Congressman Eli Potts and one by Congressman John Maker, which sought to reinstate the two years of accrued health benefits for elders.

During the session portion when individual amendments are voted on, a majority of Congress voted 7-5 in favor of Maker’s amendment and votes on the other three failed. Among the amendments filed by Potts included one to eliminate the October-December enrollment period, thereby allowing the health benefit enrollment applications to be accepted year-round like before. 

The bill comes nearly three months after Congress passed amendments to the Health Benefit Act to establish a two-month enrollment/ re-enrollment period (Oct. 1 to Dec. 15) for the following calendar year after passing bill ONCA 20-79 (sponsored by Congresswoman Jodie Revard) during the 2020 Tzi-Zho Session. Also, during that session, Congress passed ONCA 20-83 (also sponsored by Stabler) “to prohibit the accrual of unused health benefits,” which ceased the rollover of unused health benefit funds from one year to the next.

Potts, who voted against ONCA 20-79 and 20-83 last year, reiterated his concerns that the enrollment deadline creates obstacles for Osages with medical expenses especially in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maker proposed his amendment pertaining to reinstating health benefit accruals for two years for elder Osages, adding he received calls and messages from elders needing applications and that not all elders have internet access to view the Nation’s website and social media where posts were made regarding the enrollment period.

Before the vote, Stabler said “we are here today about clarification of the existing (health benefit) law and the language over the rollovers (accrued benefits). We discussed it throughout the fall session, I discussed it with many different people, I was under the impression that the balances of 2019 and 2020 stood because they had already been distributed so to speak ... once the letter came out, I met with the (ON Attorney General) and got his opinion ‘no, we need some clarification’ so that we follow in line with it. I said ‘great, fine, let me go back and do that’ ... This bill does what I intended for it to do and makes the rollover available. Did we take away anyone’s money? No.”

After ONCA 21-14 passed and the special session adjourned, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear signed ONCA 21-14 to take effect.