Soc Sci Med. 2020 Sep 22;268:113384. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.113384. Online ahead of print.
Although health care is a treaty-guaranteed right for members of federally recognized tribes, decades of research describe persistent disparities in health and access to health services for American Indians. Despite gains in insurance enrollment after the passage of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, underfunding of the Indian Health Service and national debate over the new health law contributes to insecurity, especially among the majority of American Indians aged 55 and older who rely on public insurance. We consider the production of insecurity surrounding health care for American Indian elders, analyzing its pragmatic and affective consequences. Between June 2016 and March 2017, we conducted 96 quantitative surveys and in-depth qualitive interviews with American Indian elders aged 55 and older in two states in the U.S. Southwest. Interviews were recorded, professionally transcribed, and analyzed iteratively using open and focused coding. We found that elders consistently shared discourses of doubt, fear, and uncertainty that centered on: 1) interactions with healthcare providers and facilities, especially the IHS; 2) calculations regarding health insurance and the potential costs of healthcare services; and 3) dynamics at the national level around health policy, particularly for American Indians. We argue that persistent perceptions of healthcare insecurity present a major barrier to wellbeing that remains unaddressed by existing health policy interventions for this population, which focus predominately on individual-level knowledge and behavior.