WASHINGTON DC –
U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan, Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, has secured commitments from two key Senate leaders to take action in the full Senate this year on long-stalled legislation to improve health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The Indian Health Care Improvement Act would significantly strengthen Indian health care services and facilities, as well as health care prevention and treatment programs, including child abuse prevention and mental health services on Indian reservations. It would also strengthen initiatives to better meet the health needs of Indians who do not live on reservations.
Despite a federal promise more than a century ago to meet the health care needs of American Indians, Dorgan noted that on many reservations, health care is at “third world levels.” He described the current state of Indian health care as a “crisis” and said he would not allow another Congress to come and go without acting to improve it. The Indian Affairs Committee approved similar legislation in the previous Congress, but the full Senate never considered it.
In an exchange on the Senate floor Wednesday morning, however, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pledged to Dorgan that he would bring the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to the Senate floor for action during this session of Congress. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), whose committee has jurisdiction over a portion of the bill, said he will schedule a committee session to act on the bill September 12. The Indian Affairs Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over the bill, has already approved it.
“I appreciate the sense of urgency Senators Reid and Baucus are expressing with their commitments to move this legislation and I commend them for it,” Dorgan said. “The crisis in Indian health care needs urgent attention and action, and I am grateful for their pledges to see that both the Finance Committee and the full Senate will consider this legislation promptly.