It’s been a month since reimbursement checks have been mailed to Osage parents to pay for medical bills in accordance to the Nation’s Health Benefit Card program but the Chief’s Office said the checks will be mailed out soon.
Why the month delay? According to Monica McKaughn, the flex specialist at Mutual Assurance Administrators Inc. who handles all the Osage claims for the $500 health card, MAA has not been able to reach anyone in the Nation’s Executive Branch since the departure of former Treasurer John Jech on Oct. 15. As a result, she’s been on the receiving end of some very angry Osage parents and she has begun to refer them to the Executive Branch.
“We’ve sent daily e-mails, calls, and when we send the e-mails every week we add [each week’s new claims] on there, like ‘hey, we’re still holding these,’” McKaughn said. “And a lot of tribal members log in to their accounts online and see when the checks are printed and they’re obviously upset because they see their checks are ready.
“As I understand it, [Chief John Red Eagle] was made aware of it last week,” she said.
For children 18 and under to receive the $500 in medical care, parents have to pay the bills upfront and then send in the medical bill and receipt in order to receive a reimbursement from MAA. The waiting time for the reimbursement check is normally a week, McKaughn said.
The reimbursement process has already been criticized by some Osage parents before. In an Osage News article published in March, Osage parent Marjorie Williams said she didn’t understand why minors were not eligible to receive their own card.
“That is ridiculous! Most individuals who work cannot afford insurance on their children, let alone pay for medical expenses – then wait to be reimbursed,” Williams said.
The Nation’s new treasurer, William Kemble, was sworn into office on Oct. 18 and said that he is still “gathering an understanding of all the contractual information and necessary processing requirements” for the health benefit program. During his transitional period it didn’t help that the accounting department’s operations were disrupted by new carpet being installed. He said MAA is still sending information so he can better understand the arrangement and that he “has been on them for a couple of weeks now.”
The Osage News asked Kemble who he has been contacting at MAA and Kemble did not respond.
“Once the Osage Nation Treasurer receives the requested information from Mutual Assurance Administrators, which is expected later today, he will release the checks. Mr. Kemble continues to review past practices of the accounting department and will require proper procedures be followed when necessary. Currently those procedures are generally accepted throughout the accounting profession,” said Chris White, director of intergovernmental affairs for the Nation who is currently in Albuquerque, N.M. with Chief Red Eagle at the National Congress of the American Indians conference. “Mr. Kemble is doing what he was hired to do and will not be transferring or releasing thousands of dollars of tribal funds without proper signatures and authorizations.”
The Osage News asked White if the statement meant the past practices under Jech and the Gray administration had allowed for unauthorized releases of thousands of dollars. White said “not necessarily so” and that the Nation’s accounting policies and procedures remain from the “old tribal council form of government” and that Kemble wanted to ensure that the process and funding were properly authorized to his satisfaction.
'they are just trying to buy time'
The Osage News called former treasurer John Jech at his home in Pawhuska and asked for comment on the statement from the Chief’s office and he said, “Sounds like they are just trying to buy time.”
He said MAA is responsible for verifying the tribal members enrollment, the verification of claims and the verification of reimbursement for children 18 and under. He said that after MAA verifies the claims, they make the check registry and e-mail it to the Nation’s treasurer, who approves the check registry and then the money is taken from the account specifically set up for the health benefit card program which is funded by the Osage Nation Congress. Once the treasurer approves the registry the checks are mailed.
Prior to his departure from the Nation he said he told McKaughn at MAA he was leaving and that she would be dealing with a new treasurer. He said that an ON accounting employee was always copied on e-mails from McKaughn and he assumed that this employee still received them and could easily have forwarded them to Kemble or told Kemble to contact McKaughn since she is over the Nation’s account.
“Everything was set up prior and everything was in place for the checks to be mailed out quickly, it’s just a process of setting up a register because the money is already appropriated,” Jech said. “Like they always do [in the Osage government] they blame somebody else.”