Health

Osages over age 65 receive $1,000 limit on their health benefit card this year

Osages age 65 and over now have a $1,000 limit on their health benefit card for the 2012 calendar year.

During its 13th Special Session, the Second Osage Nation Congress unanimously passed a resolution (ONCR 12-05), which authorizes the Treasurer to set the higher maximum payable amount for elder health benefit card users this year.

Now Osages over 65 have $1,000 to spend toward their medical-related purchases, which is a $500 increase from last year. The $500 card limit for Osages under 65 will remain the same. The health benefit card program covers purchases for items that the Internal Revenue Service considers tax-deductible medical expenses.

The benefit card increase comes at a time when people nationwide are raising concerns about the increasing cost of health care, which includes hospital visits, medical insurance coverage, doctor appointments and prescription medication.

Congresswoman Shannon Edwards, who sponsored the resolution and the 2008 legislation creating the health card program, describes it as “the most important thing this Congress has ever done for the Osage people and that’s to provide funds for them to maintain their health and I think the statistics bear out that this is a very important thing we have done that the people of our Nation use and appreciate.”

Edwards shared statistics provided by the health benefit card program’s third party administrator, Mutual Assurance Administrators, which has managed the card program since its debut in 2010.

Last year, 911 Osages over age 65 enrolled in the health benefit card program, Edwards said.

As of the Jan. 4 session, 9,351 Osages are participating in the program out of the nearly 15,400 enrolled Osages citizens (the latest number reported by the CDIB/ Membership Department), Edwards said. “So approximately two-thirds of our members are utilizing this benefit,” she said.

According to MAA, prescription drug medications are the largest expenditure in the health benefit card program, as well as dental care, glasses, hearing aids and general doctor visits.

“The Constitution clearly states that we have a mandate to take care of our elders,” Chief Red Eagle said of the resolution in his Jan. 4 special session address. “I feel like today if you look to the future that our health care is going to be improving… this is a start of what I anticipate on the horizon.”

In a 2010 survey of the health benefit card program conducted by the ON Congress, 98.7 percent of the 300-plus respondents said “yes” they have a need for the card’s use. The survey results also shared feedback shared by unidentified card users, one of which states: “The Health Card is a great help. I would like to see a bit more money for the 60-65, as our insurance is so costly as we age.”

Other Osage comments reported in the Congressional survey include:

- “This HBC is a wonderful help. My income on Social Security is very low so I really appreciate this help.”

- “Since I don’t have private insurance, this has been very helpful for medications I can’t get through I.H.S. (Indian Health Service).”

- “I live in CA (California) and I am feeling the sting of the recession. This health benefit card has helped a lot. I urge you to continue this program, not just for someone like me, but for those who are less fortunate than I am. And I know there are many!”

According to a separate 2010 health survey of Osages who signed up for the health benefit card, the average out-of-pocket cost for medical expenses for those living in the Nation’s boundaries was $1,374. Oklahoma Osages living outside the Nation paid an average of $1,468 and out-of-state Osages paid $1,843.

This health survey, conducted by Osage-owned consulting firm Paradox, LLC, surveyed Osages nationwide on their health conditions and expenses. According to the Paradox survey, Osages pay an annual average cost around $500 for prescription medication with out-of-state Osages paying the highest average cost of $568.56.

For doctor’s office visits, Osages spend an annual average of $300 with out-of-state Osages paying the highest average cost of $376.80, according to the Paradox survey.

The highest annual health care costs Oklahoma Osages incur are for emergency room visits. Osages pay an average of $840 for emergency room care, according to the Paradox survey. The emergency room average cost incurred by out-of-state Osages was not reported in the survey but the highest average cost is $757 for out-of-state vision care.

Congressional Speaker Jerri Jean Branstetter said the health benefit card program is one of the only ones available to all Osages without income restrictions or limits on where Osages live outside of the Osage Nation.

“Osages will need to complete a re-enrollment request form for 2012 or complete an application if they’ve never been used,” Branstetter said.

Enrollment forms for the 2012 health benefit card program are available on the ON Constituent Services Web site at: www.osagetribe.com/constituentservices. For more information, the Constituent Services office can be reached at (918) 287-5662.

A complete list of eligible medical expenses is also available at the Constituent Services Web site.