Being committed to working hand-in-hand with tribes across the country was the message Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius shared on March 1 during the National Congress of American Indians Executive Council Winter Session.
During her speech she highlighted the members of HHS responsible for this partnership, Paul Dioguardi, director of intergovernmental affairs; Stacey Ecoffey, the department’s principal advisor for tribal affairs; Lillian Sparks, commissioner of the administration for Native Americans in the Administration for Children and Families and Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, director of Indian Health Service (IHS).
Sebelius touched on the Recovery Act and how it’s a perfect example of working hand-in-hand, as progress can be seen, for example in Eagle Butte, South Dakota where IHS Recovery Funds are helping build a new health center that will serve 10,000 American Indians living on the Cheyenne River Reservation.
“This kind of project is protecting current jobs and creating new ones. But it also represents an investment in greater access, better care, and a healthier community for years to come,” Sebelius said.
She mentioned how the funds don’t stop at IHS and HHS as there has been progression from economic development to water projects, housing to road repair, and workforce training to broadband deployment.
“The Recovery Act has made an enormous difference. But there is still work left to be done,” she said. “First Americans continue to feel the weight of the economic downturn in the form of high unemployment and poverty, substandard housing, and failing infrastructure. And they continue to suffer from persistent health disparities.
“That’s why the health law, the Affordable Care Act, is so crucial. The law contains important benefits for First Americans, starting with the permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.”
The law was first approved in 1976, reauthorized last in 2000 and is now a permanent reauthorization.
Sebelius highlighted that in 2014 American Indians and Alaska Natives will have access to health insurance. This quality and affordable service will be state-based competitive insurance called Exchanges.
“The health coverage offered under these new Exchanges will be forbidden from discriminating against anyone based on their health status,” she said. “This means that more American Indian families can afford to get care when they need it instead of waiting for an illness to get worse before they get help.”
Sebelius touched on tribal input, mentioning how the department heard concerns for tribal consultation and stated in her speech that the latest funding opportunity with Exchange grants states will develop a detailed plan through consultation with tribes.
“The common thread running through this approach is the idea that Washington can't—and shouldn't—set the agenda for Indian country. The only way tribal nations can serve their people’s needs is for you to set the vision. Then we at HHS and other agencies, led by President Obama, can and will work with you to achieve it,” she said.
Read her full speech here.