September 29, 2004

Wyden Urges Quick Passage Of Indian Healthcare Improvement Act

Letter to Senate Majority Leader calls for passage of legislation supported by numerous Oregon tribes

Washington, DC U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) this week urged Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to bring the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA) to the floor as soon as possible for a vote. Wyden joined Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and 17 other Senators in sending a letter to Senator Frist urging that the Senate reauthorize IHIA, which expired in 2001, leaving tribes across the country without access to healthcare.It is critical that Native American communities have the access to healthcare that many other communities already enjoy, stated Wyden. I hope that the Senate will act swiftly to pass this bill, which already has strong support in Congress and among tribal leaders, so that we can meet the need for vastly improved tribal healthcare throughout Oregon.A number or Oregon tribes have voiced strong support for the IHCIA, including the Siletz Tribal Council, the Grande Ronde Tribe, the Coquille Indian Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation Tribal Council, as well as the Northwest Area Indian Health Board.The text of the letter follows.******************************************************************************The Honorable Bill FristMajority LeaderUnited States SenateThe CapitolWashington, D.C. 20510Dear Mr. Leader:Since its enactment in 1976, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA) has provided the legal and administrative framework for carrying out the United States trust responsibility to American Indians and Alaska Natives. Unfortunately, IHCIA has not been reauthorized since 1992 and the authorization expired at the end of fiscal year 2001.Tribal leaders from throughout Indian Country took the initiative in 1998 to examine every provision of IHCIA and draft a comprehensive update to the law. This work culminated in the introduction of S. 556 by Senator Campbell.Numerous compromises have been made and entire provisions stripped out of the legislation, at the request of the Administration, including all Medicare amendments. Despite those unfortunate developments, tribal leaders are encouraged that we are close to an agreement with the Administration which would enable passage of S. 556.It is the goal of this legislation to enhance the provision of health services to this underserved population, not to diminish authorities and responsibilities already contained in current law. Therefore, we strongly urge you to work with us to ensure the reported Senate version of the bill, which protects Native American patients more effectively, is enacted.As a recent U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) report states, last year the Indian Health Service (IHS) operated on just 52 percent of the budget that was needed to adequately address the health care needs of Indian country and had more than $3 billion in unmet needs. USCCR cites estimates by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that per capita health spending for all Americans at $5,065, while IHS spent about $1,914 per person and average spending on Navajo patients is $1,187. The USCCR adds, In fact, the federal government spends nearly twice as much money for a federal prisoners health care than it does for an American Indian or Alaska Native.Consequently and not surprisingly, this disparity in funding translates into severe health disparities for Native Americans. For example, life expectancy is six years less than the rest of the United States population. Tuberculosis rates are four times the national average. Complications due to diabetes are almost three times the national average, and death rates exceed the Healthy People 2010 targets by 233 percent. Infant mortality rates are 1.7 times higher than the rate for white infants. These figures are shocking and unacceptable.As the National Indian Health Board has stated, The travesty in looking at the deplorable health of American Indians and Alaska Natives is recognizing that the poor health indicators could be improved if funding was available to provide even a basic level of care.We urge immediate passage of S. 556 as reported by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on September 22, 2004. It is far past the time for this reauthorization to be enacted. Passage of IHCIA will be an important step toward improving the health and well-being of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Again, we urge its swift passage this year.Sincerely,Sen. DaschleSen. AkakaSen. CantwellSen. BaucusSen. StabenowSen. WydenSen. KennedySen. FeingoldSen. ByrdSen. BingamanSen. DorganSen. ConradSen. MurraySen. LautenbergSen. JeffordsSen. JohnsonSen. KohlSen. InouyeSen. Ben Nelson