December 15, 2009

Health reform is Our Chance to Fix Indian Health Care Disparities

While we discuss health care reform, we all too frequently neglect to talk about the health care needs of Indian Country. I spoke on the Senate floor about the dismal health care situation faced by Native Americans. For them, the status quo was plainly summed up in a recent Civil Rights Commission study:

U.S. Spending (per year) on Health Care

  • General population: $5,000 per person
  • Federal prison inmates: $3,800 per person 
  • Native Americans: $1,900 per person

That's right: our inmates have better health care than the population with whom we signed treaties and made a promise to provide health services.

Right now in Indian Country, the health care situation is dire. Native Americans are diagnosed with diabetes at almost three times the rate of any other ethnic group, they often don't have access to preventive care, and Native youth are attempting and committing suicide at alarming rates.

Health reform is our chance to fix Indian Health Care disparities

I am an original co-sponsor of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which was introduced by Sen. Byron Dorgan from North Dakota. This bill would fulfill our promise to reform the Indian health care system and permanently reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. We can act to reform the Indian health care system as part of the larger health care overhaul.

This 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 and 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. 
  • 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.  
  • Begin addressing the epidemic of teen suicide in Indian Country with new funding to help teach Native youth life skills to prevent suicide.

You can find out more about the Indian Health Care Improvement Act here.