December 3, 2009

Indian Health Care Improvement Act Clears Senate Committee

Major legislation to strengthen and improve health care for 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives across the country was approved Thursday by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman of the committee and author of the Indian Health Care Improvement Reauthorization and Extension Act of 2009, said the committee’s action means the bill is now ready for consideration by the full U.S. Senate.
“This is a major milestone,” Dorgan said. “As the nation’s attention is focused on the need for health reform, legislation recognizing and responding to the urgent and long overdue need to modernize the health care we provide to the First Americans is making important progress in the Senate.”
The federal government has treaty obligations to provide health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives, but Indian health care programs haven’t been updated in over ten years and have been chronically underfunded for decades. Dorgan’s legislation would correct that.
Twenty bipartisan co-sponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and 11 members of the Indian Affairs Committee, co-sponsored the bill, which was passed on a unanimous voice vote.
The bill would:
Permanently re-authorize all current Indian health care programs;
Authorize programs to increase the recruitment and retention of health care professionals, such as updates to the scholarship program, demonstration programs which promote new, innovative models of health care, to improve access to health care for Indians and Alaska Natives;
Authorize long-term care, including home health care, assisted living, and community based care. Current law provides for none of these forms of long-term care;
Establish mental and behavioral health programs beyond alcohol and substance abuse, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and child sexual abuse and domestic violence prevention programs;
Establish demonstration projects that provide incentives to use innovative facility construction methods, such as modular component construction and mobile health stations, to save money and improve access to health care services; and
Require that the IHS budget account for medical inflation rates and population growth, in order to combat the dramatic underfunding of the Indian health system.