TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation Health Services Executive Director Dr. Stephen R. Jones told tribal legislators during the Oct. 12 Health Committee meeting that CNHS officials are pushing citizens to enroll for the federal Medicaid expansion and get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Jones said since July 1 more than 6,900 CN citizens have enrolled in Medicaid.

“That’s 6,934 citizens that had no insurance or no third party at all that now have something other than just (CN) Health (Services),” he said. “They have the other benefits of Medicaid as well. That not only helps us and helps our contract health preferred care dollars go further, but it also helps their families.” 

Jones said a gap existed for people who didn’t qualify for insurance but also “made too much money” to receive Medicaid, so the expansion was created to catch the uninsured. 

“So what Medicaid expansion did was increase the eligibility,” he said. “There was a gap of folks, or citizens, across the state that made too much money to be able to get Medicaid but didn’t make enough money to get insurance and be in the marketplace. So you left this hole of people that were caught in this crossfire. So this closed that gap.”

Now that nearly 7,000 CN citizens are insured under the Medicaid expansion, they have a payer source to get health care wherever is needed, not just with CNHS, Jones said.

“We’ve done about almost 7,000 people now across our system that we were providing health care for with no third-party reimbursement. So now they have a payer source and they don’t have to use us once they get qualified. They can go wherever they want. They can still choose to use someone else. There’s no obligation to use us on their part once we sign them up,” he said.

He said the goal is to get 10,000 to 12,000 people enrolled for Medicaid by the end of 2021.

Jones also said CNHS is still working to get more people vaccinated with community vaccinations clinics that offer COVID vaccines and flu shots. The first event was Oct. 12 at One Fire Field in Tahlequah.

“We have our nurses out there and (people) can get a flu vaccine or a COVID vaccine,” he said. “You can get the first vaccine, and if you’re due for the second you can get the second one there. If you’re at that point where it’s past six months and you’re eligible for a booster you can get a booster there.”

Jones said as of Oct. 12 the Pfizer vaccine was the only U.S. Federal and Drug Administration-approved vaccine allowing booster shots. If anyone received a Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it is not recommended that he or she get a booster shot until those manufacturers have been approved to do so. 

“Obviously we want to keep you in line with the same manufacturer that you got before. Moderna and Pfizer are very close, the platform that they’re on. The J&J is a completely different platform. We don’t recommend interchanging them at all,” said Jones. 

As of Oct. 12, CNHS had given more than 81,000 vaccinations for COVID-19, he said.

For a schedule on community vaccination events, visit https://health.cherokee.org/community-vaccination-clinics/.