CN hosts HHS secretary in July

From left to right are Cherokee Nation Health Services Deputy Executive Director of External Operations Brian Hail, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. touring the tribe’s health centers in Tahlequah. Becerra visited the CN in July. COURTESY

TAHLEQUAH – With more than 2,000 Cherokee Nation citizens signed up under Oklahoma’s recent expansion of Medicaid, the CN recently hosted U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, and Indian Health Service Acting Director Elizabeth Fowler during a visit marking Becerra’s first official visit to a tribal reservation.

According to a CN press release, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner welcomed Becerra, Brooks-LaSure and Fowler at the tribe’s Outpatient Health Center in Tahlequah for 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,” Hoskin said. “Oklahoma’s expansion of Medicaid was a fitting backdrop to host Secretary Becerra and federal leadership. More than 2,000 of our 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. Secretary Becerra and CMS Administrator Brooks-LaSure also toured our health centers and 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 we see here in our 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.”

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 many CN citizens and citizens of other tribal nations in the state, now qualify.

According to the press release, it is estimated that Oklahoma’s expansion of Medicaid will have a potential $27 million impact on the CN Health System, which is the largest tribally-operated health care system in the United States and sees more than 1.4 million patient visits annually.

The visit by Becerra and Brooks-LaSure also focused on the tribe’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts, plans to build drug treatment facilities and physical wellness centers throughout the reservation, as well as the tribe’s partnership with Oklahoma State University to establish the first tribally affiliated college of medicine, the release states.

“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 CN 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.”

According to the release, 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, Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd, Tribal Councilor Mike Dobbins, Health Services Executive Director Dr. R. Stephen Jones and other tribal, state and federal leaders.

Morgan Rodman, executive director of The White House Council on Native American Affairs and a CN citizen, also joined the meetings.

The Cherokee Nation welcomes Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra as part of his first official visit to a tribal reservation.