October 15, 2009

Udall Introduces Indian Health Improvement Act

Joins 15 Senate Colleagues in Pushing for Reform to Indian Health


WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-NM, joined 15 Senate colleagues today in introducing major legislation to improve health care for 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives across the country – the Indian Health Care Improvement Reauthorization and Extension Act of 2009.

The federal government has treaty obligations to provide health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives, but Udall noted Indian health care programs haven’t been updated in more than ten years and have been chronically underfunded for decades.

“The United States has an obligation to provide quality, accessible health services for our country’s First Americans, but right now, the federal government isn’t living up to that responsibility,” said Udall, a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “This legislation would bring much-needed reforms to the Indian health care system to begin addressing the dramatic health disparities that face Native Americans, including skyrocketing diabetes rates, lack of preventive care, and an epidemic of teen suicide.”

The bill includes measures advocated by Udall to combat the growing epidemic of teen suicide in Indian Country, where the rate of suicide is 70 percent higher than the general U.S. population. It would expand a program that has proven successful for the Zuni Tribe in New Mexico which connects schools and parents with the community, teaches students to be peer educators, and helps middle and high school students learn life skills to prevent suicide. New Mexico, which has the fifth highest Native American population in the country, also has the seventh highest rate of suicide for youth ages 10 through 24 years old.

“Teen suicide is a tragedy that is tearing apart too many Native American families, especially in my home state of New Mexico,” Udall said. “In just over a month, four young people from the Mescalero Apache Reservation committed suicide – the latest a 14-year-old girl just last week. This is unacceptable, and this legislation attempts to do something about it.”

The bill also 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.

In addition to Udall, original co-sponsors include: Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Harry Reid (D-NV), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), John Tester (D-MT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mark Udall (D-CO), Mark Begich (D-AK), Roland Burris (D-IL) and Al Franken (D-MN).