Garcia: Stand up, Congress, and pass Indian health legislation

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--The time has come for Congress to stand up and protect the lives of American Indians through reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
What if your life expectancy was cut by 10 years?

What if someone you love had a brain tumor misdiagnosed as depression?

For American Indians, this is a reality. Thousands upon thousands of Native people are dying, right here in our backyard, because of terrible health care. Most Native communities have only one doctor and that one doctor sees 10 people a day. Indian country’s health care system is

Indian country’s health care system is so poor that cancer is being misdiagnosed as depression.

so poor that cancer is being misdiagnosed as depression.

Take, for example, the story of Ta’Shon Rain Littlelight. She was a precious girl who loved to dance. She went to the health clinic numerous times; and despite her condition showing lack of oxygen to her body, she kept being diagnosed with depression time and time again. Her diagnosis was cancer and she died at the age of 5. She died unmedicated and in tremendous pain.

This is just one of many stories from Indian country that tells the unbelievable status of Indian health care. American Indian and Alaska Natives face massive health disparities. The statistics are startling.

*Indian infant mortality rate is 150 percent greater for Indians than that of Caucasian infants.

*Indians are 2.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.

*Life expectancy for Indians is five years less than the rest of the U.S. population.

*Suicide for Indians and Alaska Natives is two and a half times higher than the national average.

*There are fewer mental health professionals available per 100,000 American Indians than per non-Native people (approximately 101 to 173) and a greater need for mental health services.

*Health care expenditures for Indians are less than half what America spends for federal prisoners.

It is appalling that the IHCIA has not been reauthorized since 1992 – 16 years ago. The U.S. Senate passed its version of the bill earlier this year and now it is time for the U.S. House of Representatives to do its part. Through the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has committed to passing this historic legislation, Indian lives can be saved.

Joe A. Garcia is president of the National Congress of American Indians and chairman of the All Indian Pueblo Council. He is the former governor of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo.