Cantwell Hails Enactment of Indian Health Care Reform

Law permanently reauthorizes the Indian Health care system

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) hailed the enactment of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), which was included in the larger health care reform bill signed into law this morning by President Obama.  The law reauthorizes the IHCIA for the first time since 2000.  It gives tribes more flexibility to administer health care funds and authorizes new programs at the Indian Health Service (IHS), including long-term care, youth suicide prevention and mental treatment.  The IHCIA was first passed in 1976 but its policy provisions haven’t been substantially updated since 1992. The measure expired in 2001, resulting in the government spending money on Indian health care without policy direction from Congress.  Senator Cantwell, a long-time member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, has been fighting for this legislation for almost a decade, cosponsoring this bill in committee and helping move it to the floor last December.
“This is a historic moment for the 1.9 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives who have waited too long to modernize their health care,” said Senator Cantwell. “President Obama’s signature today reaffirms the U.S. government’s commitment to provide health care to all of Indian Country.  It givestribes flexibility in administering health care and establishing new programs critical to the health of tribal communities.  I am especially proud that we found a way to ensure Pacific Northwest tribes have the same access to facility construction funds as larger land-based tribes.”
This reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act allows IHS to share staff with tribal long-term care programs.  It increases the resources available to combat communicable diseases, and will expand the type of facilities construction projects that IHS can undertake.  The new law includes a Cantwell provision to ensure smaller tribes have the same access as larger tribes to funds for facilities construction.  Currently, most of the funds dedicated to Indian health facilities go to large hospitals in the Midwest and Southwest, not small community-based clinics in the Northwest.
Senator Cantwell has been fighting for Indian health care reform for years. In October 2007, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee passed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments of 2008.  That bill was passed by the full Senate on February 26, 2008.  The House was not able to pass similar legislation and the bill died at the end of the 110th Congress.