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Conference focuses on opportunities for health care reform

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The American Indian/Alaska Native Health Policy Conference will take place in Albuquerque, N.M. Oct. 22 – 23. The conference, themed “Healthcare Reform: Opportunities in Indian Country,” is being jointly presented by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Native American Health Policy, the Center for Native American Health and the University of New Mexico.

“National health care reform will have an impact on American Indians and Alaska Natives so we need to make sure that we are at the table and are part of those discussions,” said Dr. Donald Warne, conference organizer. “Discussions have been ongoing with some of our partner agencies, such as the National Indian Health Board, National Congress of American Indians, and the National Council of Urban Indian Health. It is important to look at these opportunities since health care seems to be changing in some capacity.”

The purpose of the conference, according to the conference Web site, is to “Provide a national audience with an overview of key AI/AN health policy issues that impact access to healthcare services, quality of care and health disparities, and to provide a forum in which to identify policy strategies to improve American Indian healthcare through expanded partnerships with federal and state agencies and with the private sector.”

When asked to provide an example of a key issue conference participants could expect to hear more about, Warne said, “Medicaid systems are administered by states and many American Indians, due to high rates of poverty, depend on Medicaid for access to health services, but quite often the services paid for under Medicaid are not coordinated as well as they could be by IHS and tribal programs. I think that there is a lot of misunderstanding about Medicaid, and quite often Medicaid systems assume that IHS will take care of things, and quite often IHS and tribal programs don’t have the resources to do so. In other cases, IHS gets patients with Medicaid and they assume Medicaid will take care of things and the patient ends up getting caught in the middle.”

Health care reform has been a major concern on a tribal and national level. AI/AN participation is vital since they have a legal right to health care. As health systems change, tribes need to ensure they have adequate access to services.

“It appears the health care system is going to be reformed in some capacity,” Warne said. “There is a trust responsibility on behalf of the federal government to provide health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives but some of the discussion regarding health care reform has included mandates requiring individuals and employers to provide health insurance. American Indians and Alaska Natives should be exempt from that because we already have a pre-paid health system in which we exchanged hundreds of billions of acres of land and natural resources for certain social services which include health care.”

The conference will be an ideal location to discuss reform with leaders in health policy; participants will also have an opportunity to share concerns and thoughts with leaders.

Attendees can also expect to “benefit from increased awareness of health policy issues and to get information from these discussions to take back to their homes, tribes, states and to their regions, and ultimately ensuring that we are all providing adequate access to health service for American Indians and Alaska Natives,” Warne said.

Attendees will include professionals in Indian health care such as: Medicaid directors, state public health directors, scholars and schools of public health. Individuals attending will participate in activities and discussions dealing with Indian health delivery systems, Indian health financing and cultural competence in Indian healthare.

The format will include plenary and breakout sessions focused on key issues in American Indian health policy, including policy recommendations to improve Indian health care and public policy. Recommendations will be compiled and submitted to NCAI and NIHB for preparation as possible resolutions and for appropriate next steps for implementation.

There is no registration fee, but space is limited. There is still space available, registration forms can be found online and must be submitted by Oct. 12.