American Indian tribes are interested in getting into the insurance business in Oklahoma, but the state must be willing to treat them equally as sovereign governments, tribal leaders told a legislative committee Tuesday.
“Tribes each have their own governments and those governments are sovereign,” said Robert Weaver, government-to-government health care legislative appointee of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma. “My perception is that many tribal leaders in the past and even some in current times has been that the states, including Oklahoma, are not as open to working on a government-to-government basis as we would like. I believe we as tribes want to work closer with the state, but we have to be seen as at least equals because we are sovereign.”
State Insurance Commissioner John Doak told members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives Insurance Committee that his agency supports tribes getting involved in the insurance industry.
But he wants to ensure there are proper consumer protections.
“We want to explore all opportunities, but the heart of the matter is consumer protections, the solvency and how the companies are put together to make sure that they fit with good, sound state-based insurance regulation, which allows them to operate not only within Oklahoma but to be accepted in other states,” Doak said. “There's a learning curve for both of us.”
Doak said the banking model is a good example of how tribes can get involved in an industry by being willing to concede limited waivers of immunity to ensure protection for consumers.
Jay Calhoun, director of strategic investments at Cherokee Nation Businesses, said there is interest in exploring opportunities in the insurance industry.
“Cherokee Nation Businesses is interested in exploring all opportunities that create quality jobs for our people,” Calhoun said. “We look forward to learning more about the industry and how we might work together to create greater economic opportunity.”
Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Dan Kirby, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, said his legislative study was intended to give tribal leaders the opportunity to use the Insurance Department as a resource in offering additional coverage opportunities.
Kirby, R-Tulsa, said some tribes have tried unsuccessfully to start insurance businesses in the state. He said he hopes Tuesday's discussion on sovereignty and state-based regulations will lead to “a fruitful partnership between the Insurance Department and Oklahoma tribes.”