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HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: Obama Administration Dedicated to Improving Native Access to Health Care

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Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released the following statement today about how the Obama Administration helped advance access to health care for Indian country in 2012, and how the federal government is dedicated to fostering positive change in the coming year:

"The Obama Administration is committed to shaping a future where every American Indian and Alaska Native has access to the care and support they need to achieve their highest aspirations. And over the last four years, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in partnership with Tribal communities, has made great progress toward that goal.

Our Department includes the Indian Health Service (IHS), a federal healthcare system on or near Indian reservations, as well as many other agencies that run programs that benefit Tribal communities. At the recent White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C., I shared some of our accomplishments with Tribal leaders. 

That progress started by targeting funds where they had been lacking. Four years ago, the Indian Health Service had a budget of $3.3 billion. Today, it’s $4.3 billion. Four years ago, the Contract Health Service budget was $579 million. In most places, IHS could fund only life or limb referrals. Today, the Contract Health Service budget is $843 million, a 46 percent increase that has allowed many more patients to get the referrals they need.

The changes we’re making also go beyond the budget. Four years ago, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, the main authorizing bill for the IHS, was hopelessly stuck in Congress. Today, after more than a decade of trying, it has been permanently authorized as a part of the Affordable Care Act.

We’re also bringing more providers to communities in need through a program called the National Health Service Corps. Four years ago, because of the complicated certification process, fewer than 60 IHS and Tribal facilities were eligible to receive new primary care providers through the program. Today, there are 587.

Our commitment to American Indians and Alaska Natives extends to every operating division and program office at the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Four years ago, American Indian and Alaska Native youth in the child welfare system had to go through large state systems and outside groups. Today, we have created a process for tribes to operate their own adoption assistance and foster care programs.

Four years ago, we were seeing a steady decline in the number of children in Head Start who spoke a tribal language at home. Today, we’re using Head Start’s new performance standards to begin integrating tribal language and culture into their classrooms and curricula.

Four years ago, tribal nations were largely on their own in the ceaseless fight against alcohol and substance abuse. Today, our department has a dedicated office working with tribes as they develop detailed action plans and coordinate resources from across the federal government.

All of this progress is built on a strong foundation of Tribal consultation. Four years ago, our Department’s leadership was receiving irregular updates about its work in Indian country—often only when there was a crisis to solve. Today, our senior leaders and I meet regularly with the Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee—the first cabinet level committee of its kind. And we have charged that committee with not only with addressing today’s biggest problems but also with making the most of tomorrow’s opportunities.

One of the biggest opportunities is our ongoing work to implement the Affordable Care Act. In 2014, more of the most vulnerable American Indians and Alaska Natives may be covered by Medicaid thanks to the law. At the same time, new competitive insurance marketplaces will allow hundreds of thousands of American Indians and Alaska Natives to purchase quality, affordable health coverage for the first time.

Every American Indian and Alaska Native should know about the law’s new benefits and protections. So we are working with Tribal communities to identify everyone who is eligible and help them enroll. We also need to remind states that they must consider Tribes full partners during the design and implementation of any programs that use Department funds.

We are in a much better place today than we were four years ago. We also know we have more to do. We have an opportunity to build on our progress, giving more American Indians and Alaska Natives access to the quality care they need to get healthy and stay well; more children the chance to follow their dreams; and every Tribal community the support to protect its culture and traditions while creating more opportunity for work and growth.

By continuing our work together with Tribes, we can fulfill that great promise."