Witnesses at Senate Committee Hearing Call on Congress To Reauthorize Indian Health Care Improvement Act
Congress should act as soon as possible to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act because American Indians have disproportionately poor health compared with other U.S. residents, according to witnesses at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing last week, CQ HealthBeat reports. The act has not been reauthorized since 1992.
Mickey Peercy, executive director of health services for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, said previous versions of the legislation include provisions that must be revised. For example, the reauthorized IHCIA should allow tribal leaders to have a more substantial role in making American Indian health care decisions, according to Peercy. Ron His Horse is Thunder, chair of the Aberdeen Area Tribal Chairmen's Health Board and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said the legislation should do more to protect tribal sovereignty. He objected to a provision in previous legislation that would allow states to decide who is considered a tribal member to determine health care eligibility.
Committee Chair Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said he understands a desire for sovereignty but thinks the government should establish general eligibility rules to ensure funding is fairly distributed among tribes.
Andrew Joseph, chair of the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, noted that American Indians are 638% more likely to die from alcoholism, 400% more likely to die from tuberculosis, 291% more likely to die from diabetes complications, 91% more likely to die from suicide and 67% more likely to die from pneumonia and influenza compared with other U.S. residents. Rachel Joseph, tribal co-chair of the National Steering Committee for Reauthorization of IHCIA, said, "American Indians have a level of health care funding that would not be acceptable for other American citizens" (Attias, CQ HealthBeat, 2/9).