Tribe on way toward managing Medicaid program

February 10, 2013 • State News

FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) — Navajo Nation officials say they are on their way toward managing their own federally funded Medicaid program.

The Farmington Daily Times reports ( that the nation began looking into creating its own Medicaid program about five years ago because of issues some tribal members had with other health care programs available in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

Navajo Nation Department of Health officials are optimistic that the tribe can sustain its own Medicaid program, even though a feasibility study wasn’t as optimistic.

“Basically, what they indicated was if the Navajo Nation wanted to do it, it could do it,” said Larry Curley, executive [auth] director of the Navajo Nation Department of Health. “The Navajo Nation is moving ahead with this.”

While more than 100,000 members of the tribe are currently eligible for Medicaid, many of them do not take advantage of the services because of the complications that frequently accompany them, Curley said. Members often have to travel long distances or go to certain clinics to receive the services.

Additionally, all three states are pursuing their own versions of Medicaid within their state boundaries, which creates issues for Navajo who live in one state but sometimes are closer to services in another.

The tribe asked that a feasibility study be done to see how viable its own Medicaid system would be. The study is complete but hasn’t yet been released. It’s under review by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The study will go to Congress for review March 23.

The study assumed that the tribe’s Medicaid system would serve Navajos within the tribe’s geographic boundaries and would alleviate some confusion.

“It would just be simpler for us. We wouldn’t have to face the different rules that different states have,” said Erny Zah, spokesman for the Navajo Nation president.

It will cost an estimated $100 million to $120 million to put the technology, people and other plans in place to make the program work, Curley said, though he noted that the study said it was a very rough number.

“I have a fantastic belief in Indian peoples that they can do what they believe they can do,” Curley said, noting that this system will be able to incorporate traditional medicine and will be a more culturally sensitive system. “It will be successful.”

Other leaders have not been quite as confident.

New Mexico politicians in August last year expressed doubts about both the state’s and the tribe’s plans for Medicaid during a meeting in Shiprock.

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