Seattle Post-Intelligencer Examines Health Disparities Faced by Washington State American Indians
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Thursday examined the health disparities and access to care problems that American Indians in Washington state face. The state Department of Health last month released a report that found American Indians in the state have higher rates of cancer and heart disease than the general population. According to the report, American Indians are dying at higher rates than 10 years ago, while the general population is living longer and becoming healthier.
The report also found that in 2006, the latest year studied, American Indian men had the highest death rate of all residents, and while the overall infant mortality rate declined over the last 10 years, American Indians' rate increased by 44%. Health experts say that such disparities can be attributed to a tradition of unhealthy diets and a lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Many American Indians live on remote, isolated reservations, according to the Post-Intelligencer.
Experts added that years of inadequate funding from the federal government -- which is obligated to provide health care to American Indians through treaty and congressional agreements -- has exacerbated health disparities faced by American Indians. Many of state's 29 tribes, which include about 11,000 American Indians, do not have the funds to pay for medical screenings, specialty care, mental health services, substance use treatment or dentists, according to the Post-Intelligencer.
Tribes are anticipating that $4 billion included in President Obama's budget for Indian Health Services will improve health among American Indians, the Post-Intelligencer reports. The tribes also rely on their own community bonds to fund health care programs.
"People are suffering," Marsha Crane, health director of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe in Western Washington, said, adding, "It's, 'Here's the bad news, here's your diagnosis. But here's the worse news: We can't afford to pay for your drugs, or your surgery.' That's happening every day with tribes across the country" (Ho, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/12).