March 23, 2010

President Obama Signs Indian Health Care Improvement Act into Law

President Obama signed the Indian Health Care Improvement Reauthorization and Extension Act of 2009, into law Tuesday. The bill, authored by U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, strengthens and improves health care for 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives. The major legislation won final congressional approval Sunday as part of the health care reform bill.
The Indian Health Care Improvement bill was a top priority for Dorgan, who hailed its passage as “historic” and as action that will “substantially improve and save lives” in Indian Country. “It is very appropriate that, as the nation acts to reform the broader health care system, it also recognizes and responds to the urgent need to modernize how we deliver health care to the First Americans.”
The federal government has trust and treaty obligations to provide health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives. The new law is the first update and modernization of the nation’s basic Indian health care programs in over a decade.
Major provisions in the new law will do the following:
Permanently re-authorize all current Indian health care programs.
Authorize a comprehensive youth suicide prevention effort, including streamlining the process by which tribes apply for federal grants for Indian youth suicide prevention efforts, the tribal use of pre-doctoral psychology and psychiatry interns to augment the number of mental health care providers in Indian communities, a telemental health demonstration project for Native American communities to enhance delivery of mental health services and prevent youth suicides, and a demonstration project for youth suicide prevention curriculum.
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 prevention 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.
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.