by Tristan Ahtone
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Around 25,000 Native Americans in New Mexico will become eligible for Medicaid when the Affordable Care Act goes into effect next year. The change translates to more money for the Indian Health Service. But Medicaid expansion will also force Native health providers to deal with something they’ve never faced before: competition from non-tribal health programs.
New Mexico has one of the largest Native American populations in the nation, and nearly 40 percent of that population currently lacks health insurance. Take John Armijo, for instance. He’s an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Jemez located in central New Mexico. When he learned he would be eligible for Medicaid in 2014, he says it came as a relief.
“I was thinking ‘oh god, this will be great’ for me, one of the baby boomers and my fellow tribal members,” Armijo said. “It’ll be a great thing and if that happens, I won’t have to wait for the retirement age to have these services.”
Armijo is three years shy of being eligible for Medicare, works part-time for the U.S. Forest Service – which doesn’t provide him with insurance – and makes just enough money to be ineligible for Medicaid. However, next year, when the state expands its Medicaid program, Armijo will have coverage, and choices.
“If my health deteriorates or goes bad I’ll be looking for other services,” Armijo said. “Like, special doctors or special hospitals.”
Like many Native Americans, Armijo has received medical care through the Indian Health Service, or IHS, for most of his life. The IHS system provides free, basic services to tribal citizens and pays for more complicated procedures it can’t handle at other facilities.
If there’s enough money to pay for it.