Move To Speed Navajo Medicaid Entity Approvals Vetoed

By Kelly Zegers
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Law360 (April 1, 2020, 7:54 PM EDT) -- Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez has vetoed a resolution that aimed to fast-track the launch of the tribe's own managed health care group to aid efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic, sparking a dispute among tribal leaders and the tribe's business arm, Naat'áanii Development Corporation. 

The resolution was passed by the Navajo Nation Council last week to urge New Mexico to expedite the approvals, contracts and infrastructure for the Naat'áanii Development Corporation–Molina Healthcare Inc. Indian Managed Care Entity, which would manage Medicaid on the part of the tribe's reservation in that state.

"To introduce another entity, without proper vetting, will only promote confusion and chaos as hospitals and clinics were not consulted or advised on this matter," Nez said in his veto decision Friday, adding that the Naat'áanii Development Corporation was never intended to provide or manage health care in the first place.

Nez said the resolution "unconscionably attempted to capitalize on the COVID-19 pandemic."

The move fueled a dispute among tribal leadership over the intentions behind attempts to start the health care partnership sooner.

"It is regrettable that, during a time of danger surrounding COVID-19, the Office of the President and Vice President has chosen to spread misinformation and to cast the Navajo Nation Council in a bad light," Navajo Nation Council Speaker Seth Damon said in a statement Tuesday.

The health care partnership, which the Naat'áanii Development Corporation, or NDC, agreed to join with Molina Healthcare Inc., remains a long-term project despite the veto, Damon said.

Navajo Nation Council members criticized the veto, including its health committee chairman, Daniel Tso, who said the president "fails to grasp" that the Navajo Nation and entire country need all the resources necessary to face the pandemic, according to a press release. 

Nez said his veto decision protects the Navajo people from deception by the NDC, according to a press release. State officials have said the regulatory approval process would take more than 20 months, he said.

"For Naat'áanii Development Corporation and Molina Healthcare to create the false impression that they would be up and running within weeks is outright reckless and disruptive," he said.

Nez claimed the NDC was taking advantage of the pandemic "by circumventing the standard regulatory approvals and holding desperately needed medical supplies hostage to strong arm the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation," according to the press release.

NDC responded to Nez's accusations on Monday, saying it was close to securing 5,000 COVID-19 testing kits and other medical supplies through Molina Healthcare of New Mexico to be provided to the Indian Health Service facilities on the reservation, "regardless of any opposition to NDC and Molina because it is the humane thing to do during this pandemic crisis," according to a press release. 

"The Navajo people must know that a fully functional Navajo Managed Care Organization (MCO) would be able to provide much more resources if the approval of the Navajo Nation Council's legislation was followed through, but the recent OPVP veto is delaying us from immediately and fully accessing the much-needed additional resources," the NDC said. 

Damon also defended NDC, saying the partnership with Molina would complement the Navajo Nation's existing Indian Health Service hospital system and contracted health clinics, not compete them, as the Navajo Nation president suggested. 

Molina Healthcare did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

--Additional reporting by Joyce Hanson. Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

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