Friday, February 29, 2008

Native American Health Bill Passes Senate

Improved access to health care. Preventative screening. Mental health services. Thanks to legislation passed in the U.S. Senate last Tuesday, these things may be more accessible to the Native American Community soon.

Mary Clare Jalonick of the Associated Press tells us that the bill, approved 83-10, would have several effects. In addition to funding existing programs at the Indian Health Service, it would also fuel new construction and modernizing of health care facilities located on reservations, increase tribal access to Medicare and Medicaid, and attempt to recruit more native Americans into health care oriented professions. About $35 billion would be spent on these things over the coming decade.

There is no shortage of commentary on the Senate floor (Via a variety of sources listed at the bottom of this post):
  • Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., termed this legislation a first step in addressing a crisis in American Indian health care. He is reported as saying that the current system is underfunded and inefficient.

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said American Indians have access "to some of the least adequate health care in America. [...] Far too many native children are diagnosed with diabetes, suffer from abuse and neglect, or die prematurely because of accidents or illness that could be prevented or cured," Reid said.

  • Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK who is also a doctor, called for a much more comprehensive overhaul of the system and called the legislation "morally bankrupt." "Why are we putting off fixing the system?" he asked. "So we could tell everyone that we did something when in fact we did nothing."

  • "Improving the delivery of health care services for American Indians is long overdue," said U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, D-WA said. "Overall trends in the health of this population are simply unacceptable. American Indians and Alaskan Natives across the country are 400 percent more likely to die from tuberculosis, 291 percent more likely to die from diabetes complications, and 67 percent more likely to die from influenza and pneumonia than other groups. Passage of this bill in the Senate is a critical first step to strengthening health care services for American Indians, and living up to our long-standing trust responsibility to provide for their well-being."

  • U.S. Sen Amy Klobuchar [D-MN] stated that this is the first time in 17 years they have been able to pass the Indian Health Care Bill.
One of the amendments included in the final version of the bill is an official resolution of apology for the federal governments long history of poor and negative policies regarding native American tribes. Other amendments include the exclusion of abortions at Indian health clinics and a prohibition against spending on programs that discourage gun ownership.

I am sure that there will be a similar variety of available quotes once this hits the U.S. House of Representatives.

SOURCE: "Senate Passes Bill on Indian Health Care " 02/27/08
SOURCE: "Senate approves landmark Indian Health Care legislation " 02/27/08
SOURCE: "Senate Passes Indian Health Care Bill " 02/28/08
photo courtesy of thivierr, used under this Creative Commons license

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