With more than 2,000 Cherokee citizens already signed up under Oklahoma's recent expansion of Medicaid, the Cherokee Nation recently hosted U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, and Indian Health Service Acting Director Elizabeth Fowler.
The trio made a special visit marking Secretary Becerra's first official visit to a tribal reservation.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner welcomed Secretary Becerra, CMS Administrator Brooks-LaSure and IHS Director Fowler at the tribe's new Outpatient Health Center in Tahlequah.
They participated in a roundtable discussion on Oklahoma's recent expansion of Medicaid with local, state, federal and tribal leaders.
"I want to thank Secretary Becerra, CMS Administrator Brooks-LaSure, and IHS Director Fowler for visiting the Cherokee Nation Reservation to see first-hand how we continue to lead by example in the field of health care," Chief Hoskin said. "Oklahoma's expansion of Medicaid was a fitting backdrop to host Secretary Becerra and federal leadership."
He said more than 2,000 of the tribal health system's patients enrolled in Medicaid in just the first few weeks of the expansion.
"This means more Cherokee families are going to have peace of mind as they confront future health care needs here on the Cherokee Nation Reservation and throughout Oklahoma," Hoskin said.
Secretary Becerra and CMS Administrator Brooks-LaSure also toured the health centers.
He also met one-on-one with Cherokee families and health care providers to talk about the significance of programs like Medicaid and Medicare, as well as the impact Cherokee Nation officials have seen in their communities when the federal government upholds its trust responsibilities to Indian Country.
"I look forward to continuing these critical discussions in the future as we implement new and innovative opportunities to improve upon our tribal health care system," said Hoskin.
On July 1, Oklahoma became the first state in the country to expand Medicaid under the Biden-Harris Administration.
As many as 200,000 Oklahomans, including a significant number of Cherokee Nation citizens and citizens of other tribal nations in the state, now qualify.
It is estimated that Oklahoma's expansion of Medicaid will have a potential $27 million impact on the Cherokee Nation Health System.
This is the largest tribally-operated health care system in the United States and it sees more than 1.4 million patient visits annually.
The visit by Secretary Becerra and CMS Administrator Brooks-LaSure also focused on the Cherokee Nation's COVID-19 vaccination efforts, plans to build drug treatment facilities and physical wellness centers throughout the reservation, and the tribe's historic partnership with Oklahoma State University to establish the first tribally affiliated college of medicine.
"Tribal nations are sovereign governments that should always be included in federal policy discussions and decisions, so it is encouraging that the Biden-Harris administration continues to make Native Americans a priority not just in word, but in deed," said Cherokee Nation Delegate to Congress Kimberly Teehee.
"Our meeting with Secretary Becerra, CMS Administrator Brooks-LaSure and IHS Director Fowler is another example of how we can ensure Native Americans are visible to federal administrators and policymakers and that we continue to make progress not just on tribal health care, but on all issues that impact Indian Country."
Other attendees during the visit included Teehee, Secretary of State Tina Glory Jordan, Chief of Staff Todd Enlow, Treasurer Tralynna Sherrill Scott, Cherokee Nation Businesses Diversified Businesses President Steven Bilby, Speaker of the Council Joe Byrd, Tribal Councilor Dr. Mike Dobbins, Health Services Executive Director Dr. R. Stephen Jones, along with other tribal, state and federal leaders.
Morgan Rodman, executive director of The White House Council on Native American Affairs and a Cherokee Nation citizen, also joined the meetings.