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Obamacare Means Access To Health Care For Choctaw Family

Lauren Silverman
Jeff Riley, 30, lives in North Richland Hills with his wife Maxine, their three-week-old baby Eugenia, daughter Anna, and son Nobel.

Obamacare could make getting access to healthcare a lot easier for the Riley’s. In the North Texas family of five, three are members of the Choctaw Nation and have special perks under the Affordable Care Act. As part of KERA’s series Obamacare 101: Making The Choice, we bring you a profile the Riley’s.

Jeff Riley, 30, lives in North Richland Hills with his wife Maxine, their three-week-old baby Eugenia, daughter Anna, and son Nobel.

For years, Jeff has wanted to get the whole family health insurance, but hasn’t been able to afford the premiums.

“It’s a constant stress and worry for us,” he says. “We’re not trying to get something for free. We just want to be able to access it in a way that’s not possible before.”

Technically, Jeff and his kids do have access to health care –they’re Choctaw tribal members and that means they could go to any Indian Health Service hospital. Problem is, the closest one is in Lawton, Oklahoma.

“When you have kids and you want to just have a primary care doctor it’s not really practical for every doctor appointment we would drive to Oklahoma,” Jeff says.

In North Texas, Native Americans have even lower rates of health insurance than the general population. And although they’re exempt from the Obamacare penalty if they choose not to sign up, Jeff and his wife Maxine have been checking everyday, sometimes several times a day, since Oct. 1.

“We’re pretty patient,” Riley says. “Because we want it to work out.”

And Jeff is lucky, as a member of a federally recognized tribe, he’ll have access to special monthly enrollments that continue past the regular March deadline. That’s a perk that probably sounds pretty good to all the people still on hold in Texas.

What the ACA means for Native Americans:

  • No Obamacare Individual Mandate Penalty: Tribal members are not required to sign up for helath insurance and will not have to pay a fine when they file taxes.
  • Special Enrollment Periods: Tribal members can sign up any time – there aren’t enrollment deadlines.
  • No Out-Of-Pocket Payments: Tribal members are exempt from out-of-pocket payments if they receive services from Indian health facilities.
  • Limited Co-Payments: Tribal members with incomes below 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($34,470 for an individual) are exempt from paying deductibles and copays.

For more details, check out this fact sheet from Indian Health Services.

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.