Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate regarding the Indian Health Care Improvement Act:
“In the month since this year’s session was gaveled open, we have focused on many of the domestic priorities our country faces. Today, we turn to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Although we often have legitimate disagreements on matters of policy, Senator McConnell and members of the Republican caucus worked with us in a bipartisan manner on this critical bill for the Native American community, and I appreciate their efforts.
“Chairman Dorgan and Senator Murkowski also deserve our thanks for their exceptional leadership and hard work managing this legislation. Chairman Baucus and Senator Grassley followed suit – working together on a bipartisan basis on provisions to improve the ways by which the Indian health care system and tribal recipients can participate more fully in Social Security Act health benefit programs. Senators Kennedy, Bingaman, Kyl and Enzi, and many others, have spent years working on this bill. Because of their efforts, and those of countless tribal leaders and federal agency staff, this is a bill that Democrats and Republicans can all proudly support.
“A final word of praise is due to the tribal advocates who have stood behind this cause from the very beginning.
- the National Congress of American Indians;
- the National Indian Health Board;
- the National Council of Urban Indian Health;
- the Indian Health Board of Nevada; and
- other state tribal organizations have all played crucial roles.
“I can say with confidence that this bill reflects their priorities, their varied interests, and their solutions to the problems that plague the health care system upon which Native Americans rely. I was glad to sign on as an original cosponsor of this bill. Over the past eight years, my staff and I have had countless meetings with tribal leaders in Nevada. They made it clear to me how badly this legislation is needed for the 30,000 Native Americans living in Nevada – and millions living throughout the United States.
“Right now, our Native American communities 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. Far too many adults get lost in a sea of bureaucracy and fail to receive the preventive care and other health benefits they need and deserve.
“We can and must do better – and this bill will help federal and tribal health professionals deliver quality care to Native Americans of all ages.
- It supports the recruitment and retention of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals for Indian health programs.
- It strengthens and expands health services to American Indians. For the first time, tribes will be allowed to use federal funds to provide hospice, long-term care, home-based and community-based care for elders and the most vulnerable tribal members.
- It increases individual access to health services by facilitating third-party reimbursements from private insurance, Medicaid, Medicare and other federal health benefits programs.
- It expressly addresses behavioral health needs of adults and children by authorizing programs to address suicide, substance abuse, sexual abuse and domestic violence problems affecting some communities and households.
- And it furthers tribal self-determination and sovereignty by authorizing consultation and rulemaking on important programs affecting health care delivery and access.
“My colleague Senator Dorgan has often said that America spends more on health care, per person, on federal prisoners than on Native Americans. This bill is only a part of the solution, but it is a critical first step. I urge all of my colleagues to finish work and approve this bill in the same spirit of bipartisan cooperation that it has seen from the very beginning.
“Millions of our first Americans await our action. Let’s quickly pass this bill and send it to the President for his signature. Let’s let our country’s Native Americans know that they are not forgotten, and that we will deliver them the care that they deserve.”