Last month President Obama invited leaders from 564 American Indian tribes to discuss important issues in Indian Country, including the delivery of better health care.
Congress is currently debating a health care overhaul and it might just be the catalyst for significant improvements to the Indian health system. According to experts, if the overhaul was to happen there would be direct streams of money to the Indian health care system which would give Native Americans more treatment options over time. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will meet this week to discuss other Indian health issues that could end up in the overhaul bill.
President Obama also proposed a budget increase of 13 percent for the federal Indian Health Service, which provides free care to 1.9 million Indians who are members of federally recognized tribes, most of whom live on tribally owned land. The service, which had a budget this year of $3.3 billion, has also received $500 million in stimulus money for construction, repairs and equipment. Many Native American leaders believe this is a positive step in narrowing the gap in Indian health care, which is substantially underfunded.
The Indian Health Care Improvement Act also stands a good chance of being reauthorized by Congress for the first time since 2001, and it would enhance programs, physician recruitment and hospital construction. Although it approves no funding, advocates hope it will prompt additional money.
Given the current climate in Congress, and the President’s support, some believe it will be easier to get Native American provisions in the health care bills, but for now there is no guarantee, just hope.