Washington Report

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NIHB Government Relations Presents Indian Health 101 in Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing Room

On October 26, the NIHB Government Relations Team presented Indian Health 101: Fulfilling a Promise in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Hearing Room. The educational presentation was attended by Congressional and NIHB staff. Key topics covered during the presentation included the legal basis of the Indian health system, Indian health today, and health issues for the 118th Congress.

Federal Relations Director, AC Locklear, opened the presentation, providing background information on the Tribal founding of NIHB with the purpose of advocating as the united voice of federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) Tribes. Locklear continued, explaining the significance of the federal trust responsibility, which forms the federal government’s duty to provide health services to Tribes. Locklear also provided background information on key cornerstones of federal Indian law such as the Snyder Act (1921), Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (1975), and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (2010)—all of which made key contributions to developing the current Indian health system.

Government Relations Director, Caitrin McCarron Shuy, followed by providing an overview of the Indian Health Service (IHS) today and its deficient funding. Shuy highlighted that IHS is funded at one-seventh of the National Tribal Budget Formulation Workgroup's needs-based budget estimate. The role of third-party revenue from Medicare, Medicaid, and Reimbursements from the Veteran’s Administration was highlighted as an important source of financial support for IHS, Tribal, and Urban Health Facilities, given the Indian health system’s lack of full funding.

Congressional Relations Coordinator, Taylor Barrett, provided details of NIHB’s Congressional advocacy work. The Special Diabetes Program for Indians is set to expire on November 17, 2023—Barrett shared legislation that is awaiting consideration that could renew the program for another two years. Other current bills involved Tribal data sharing, behavioral health, and the IHS Loan Repayment Program Tax Exempt.

The presentation emphasized the impact of the health inequalities that AI/ANs face. Locklear shared National Center for Health Statistics data indicating that AI/ANs experienced the largest decline in life expectancy during the pandemic, making the average lifespan for AI/ANs just 65.2 years, compared to the national average of 76.1. Locklear pointed out that if this trend were to continue, the next generation of AI/AN’s, on average, would not live long enough to ever be eligible for Medicare. “We’ve built our entire health system without American Indian and Alaska Native people, and that is unacceptable,” concluded Locklear.

The event provided an opportunity to key advocates and professionals in the Indian health space to learn more about the elements that form the current issue landscape. To learn more about NIHB’s policy work, visit this page to access the Government Relations Legislative Agenda and other resources.

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