Saturday, December 19, 2009

Indian Health Bill takes Step Forward

Indian Health Bill takes Step Forward
Friday, December 4, 2009
By Scott
Senate Committee passes Bill during Business Meeting

By Scott McKie B.P.

One Feather staff

Information from the National Institutes of Health states that American Indians are 200 percent more likely to die from diabetes than other groups. The Indian Health Care Improvement Act of 2009 was written to help combat that disparity.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee passed the Senate version of the bill (S. 1790) during a meeting on Thursday, Dec. 3. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), said in a statement on Thursday that he is hoping for swift passage of the bill in the Senate.

“The action by the Indian Affairs Committee today is a crucial step in assuring that American Indians receive the health care they deserve,” said Sen. Johnson. “This bill will help us live up to our obligation to help Indian Country. It is long overdue and I hope that the full Senate moves quickly on passing this legislation.”

Vickie Bradley, EBCI Deputy Health Officer commented, “I am very excited that the Senate Indian Affairs Committee passed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act of 2009 and it will now move to the Senate floor. This is a reassuring step in a very long process. The last IHCIA expired at the end of Fiscal Year 2001. Although the government has still appropriated money for health programs since the previous law expired, there has been no guarantee of continuation without reauthorization of the new law.”

Bradley continued, ”We know that Native Americans suffer from some of the worst health disparities in the world. The reauthorization of the IHCIA of 2009 will permanently reauthorize Native American health care programs and apply standards to ensure the modernization and improvement of health care in Indian Country. The legislation, originally authorized in 1976 and last authorized in 1992, provides health care for Native Americans and Alaska Natives to help fulfill the U.S. government’s treaty and trust responsibilities.”

The House is also advancing a version of this bill (HR 2708) that was introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ). During a meeting with the National Indian Health Board in September, Rep. Pallone said, “Native Americans continue to suffer from a number of problems when it comes to health care, including lower rates of insurance coverage, restricted access to medical care and health professionals, and poorer health outcomes. For too long there has been a growing divide between the health care services afforded Native American communities. We have made some progress, but more has to be done to improve their health care services.”

According to the summary of the bill, several major points in the legislation include:

Reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act
Replacing the Urban Health Programs Branch with a Division of Urban Indian Health
Directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services, acting through the Indian Health Service, to provide programs of comprehensive behavioral health, prevention, and treatment
Authorizing grants to urban Indian organizations for health information technology, telemedicine services development, and related infrastructure
Establishing the Native American Health and Wellness Foundation

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