- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - A Wyoming tribe has asked a federal judge to block an Internal Revenue Service rule under the federal health care law that the tribe says could cause Native Americans to pay more for insurance or lose health care benefits.

Northern Arapaho Tribe leaders say the proposed IRS interpretation of a mandate for large employers to provide health care coverage would unlawfully exempt tribal members who work for the tribe from receiving tax credits and cost-sharing benefits granted Native Americans in the Affordable Care Act.

Kelly Rudd, the Northern Arapaho attorney, said the agency’s interpretation could subject the tribe to more than $1.5 million in tax penalties if its business entities, including Wind River Casino, do not offer employer-sponsored insurance. “They proposed a one-size-fits-all, large-employer mandate that doesn’t fit Congress’ purpose of bringing health care to working-class Native Americans,” Rudd said.

The tribe insures employees with plans from the federal health insurance marketplace and pays 80 percent of the premium costs, he said. Those policies provide better coverage than the tribe could purchase independently, Rudd said.

Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services say the rule-making is based on Congress’ intent to promote employer-sponsored health coverage under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act law, the Casper Star-Tribune reported (https://bit.ly/1vIfa05).

Jacek Pruski, a U.S. Department of Justice attorney, told the court that the IRS rule-making is in compliance with the purpose of the law. The court should reject the motion to block enforcement of the rule because the tribe did not establish the strength of its case based on prior case law, he said.

Rudd countered that the U.S. Department of the Interior is charged with overseeing tribal health care programs. The IRS did not communicate with the Interior Department while drafting the rule, he said.

“Basically what we have is a left-hand-right-hand problem in communication among agencies,” Rudd said.

U.S. District Judge Scott W. Skavdahl said he would issue a decision in coming weeks.

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, https://www.trib.com


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