February 26, 2008

Senate Passes Historic Native American Health Legislation

U.S. Senator Byron Doran (D-ND) speaks at a rally celebrating the Senate passage of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. U.S. Senator Byron Doran (D-ND) speaks at a rally celebrating the Senate passage of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. WASHINGTON, DC – The United States Senate gave overwhelming final approval to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments of 2008 Tuesday. U.S. Senator Byron Doran (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said the legislation, which passed with a vote of 83-10, is the first update of this critical Indian Health Care legislation in 16 years.
The legislation creates important new Indian health programs and improves existing successful programs. It expands cancer screenings, improves communicable and infectious disease monitoring, and enhances recruitment and scholarship programs for Indian health professionals.
The United States government has a legal trust responsibility, based on treaties, statutes and long-standing practice, to provide health care to the estimated 1.9 million Native Americans.
“Today marks a major step in health care for Native Americans. The bill includes several programs that will help combat the most serious health issues facing American Indians and it contains programs to promote Native Americans entering the health care field,” Doran said. “But we have to remember that this is just a start to the work that needs to be done to meet and pay for the health care obligations that we have to American Indians and Alaska Natives.”
The Indian Health Care Improvement Act is the culmination of many years of work. The legislation has been introduced several times, but it was under Senator Doran’S leadership that the bill finally passed the Senate.
While the legislation creates new programs to prevent teenage suicides, domestic violence and sexual abuse and enhances and expands current diabetes screening efforts, Doran said more funding is needed so these programs can make a difference in these communities.
“For years, funding has fallen far below what is required, and to make true progress, the Indian Health Care system must be fully funded. It’S scandalous when our federal government spends almost twice as much per person for health care for federal prisoners as we do for First Americans,” Doran concluded.
The legislation will now be considered by the House of Representatives.
Continues the program to increase recruitment and scholarship programs for Indian health professionals;
Expands current cancer screening programs for Native Americans;
Improves communicable and infectious disease monitoring;
Improves and expands the current diabetes screening including the treatment and control of the disease;
Expands the program to prevent domestic violence and sexual abuse among Native American communities;
Allows tribes to use maintenance funds for renovation, modernization, expansion or to construct a replacement facility, when it is not economically practical to repair a facility;
Directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to fund urban Indian youth residential treatment centers to provide alcohol and substance abuse treatment services to urban Indian youth in a culturally competent residential setting;
Creates an Indian Youth Elemental Health Demonstration Project to address youth suicide prevention, intervention and treatment;
Establishes requirements for privacy protections so that the Indian Health Service and tribal health programs are in line with other health agencies and departments;
Encourages states to increase outreach to Indians residing on or near a reservation and help them to enroll in the CHIP and Medicaid programs.