UPDATE: Baker announces $29.5M IHS settlement

Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
07/16/2014 08:45 AM

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – At the Tribal Council’s July 14 meeting, Principal Chief Bill John Baker announced that the Cherokee Nation has reached a $29.5 million settlement with Indian Health Services as compensation for nearly a decade’s worth of contract support costs IHS failed to pay the tribe.

Baker said the tribe would receive a lump sum payment for being underpaid by the federal government between 2005 and 2013, resulting in more than $31 million, including interest.

“Payment of these millions of dollars from the federal government is long overdue, and now these funds will be utilized to provide expanded and improved health care services to our citizens. We will be able to equip our new centers with state-of-the-art medical devices and technology,” he said. “Native people have been historically underserved when it comes to access to quality care, and this is a step in a positive direction.”??

The Nation operates eight health centers and W.W. Hastings Hospital. The entire health system sees more than 1 million patient visits per year. To staff and treat those patients, the tribe uses third-party billing, tribal funds and a $150 million compact with IHS. The federal agency is required to pay the Nation a percentage each year for indirect costs to support health contracts, such as Internet technology, human resources, finance and other infrastructure. The Nation filed claims in 2006 after those funds went unpaid for several years. ??

“I am extremely pleased the Cherokee Nation is finally going to recoup funds that were owed to us for so long,” said Attorney General Todd Hembree, who negotiated the settlement. “These funds will be put to great use in helping meet the needs of the Cherokee people. Many thanks should be given to the dedicated employees in our self-governance, finance and health services departments.”

Hembree said he expected the settlement check within a matter of days.

CN Communications said the Tribal Council would approve plans for spending the settlement in an upcoming meeting.

Baker also announced the upcoming construction of a casino in South Coffeyville.

“I’m pleased to stand here today and tell you that the paperwork is done, the business lease has been approved and as soon as next week a casino will go in South Coffeyville, Okla.,” he said.

Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the tribe should have more details available about the casino as plans develop but expects construction and hiring to begin soon.

“This will mean jobs for Cherokees in a community that needs economic development and more revenue for services to the people,” said Hoskin Jr.

The South Coffeyville casino will be the eighth casino in the tribe’s jurisdiction. The other seven are located in Sallisaw, Roland, West Siloam Springs, Claremore, Catoosa, Ramona and Tahlequah.

In council business, Tribal Councilors amended an act dealing with the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission, adding in “technical amendments to conform Cherokee Nation’s gaming ordinance to the regulations of the National Indian Gaming Commission.”

The amended document primarily focuses on the issue of gaming licenses issued to a “Key Employee” or “Primary Management Official.”

According to the amendment, the CNGC shall submit the results of the employee’s background investigation to the National Indian Gaming Commission no later than 60 days after the employee begins work at one of the casino locations.

The document states that once the CNGC submits the notice of results of the employee’s background investigation to the NIGC, the CNGC can issue the license to the employee. Once issued, the CNGC shall notify the NIGC within a 30-day period.

During the 30-day period, if the NIGC submits a statement with objections to an employee the CNGC can reevaluate the employee’s application.

The amendment also requires that a person who does not have a license after a 90-day period shall not be employed as a key employee or primary management official.

The amendment also dealt with changing wording concerning preliminary determination and license suspension. According to the act, after a hearing, the CNGC shall reinstate, revoke, deny, or allow the employee to keep the gaming license or permit. The CNGC then shall inform the NIGC of its hearing decision regarding a key employee or primary management official’s license within a 45-day period of obtaining notification from the NIGC.

Councilors also authorized $250,000 to be passed to the tribe’s Housing Rehabilitation Program for fiscal year 2015 “to match the Indian Community Development Block Grant application.”

The council also approved two budget modifications for fiscal year 2014.

One modification increased the tribe’s Capital Budget by $382,739 for a total budget of $103,436,851.

The other modification increased the tribe’s Operating Budget by $3,770,046 for a total budget of $613,731,556.

The next council meeting is set for 6 p.m. on Aug.11.


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