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NCAI resolutions focus on health care

PALM SPRINGS, Calif – An 18-page document reaffirming the nation-to-nation relationship in preparation for President Barack Obama’s historic first summit with tribal leaders was the longest and most detailed resolution passed at the National Congress of American Indians annual meeting in October, but it was only one of dozens of important issues the organization addressed.

Support for Indian health care and national health care reform, increased law enforcement powers on reservations, education funding and environmental protection were some of the concerns addressed at NCAI’s 66th Annual Conference & Trade Show, a weeklong event that took place at the Palm Springs Convention Center in mid-October.

Resolutions are brought by tribes or delegates to NCAI committees that meet during the conference and hash out the details and language of each resolution. The committees are charged with five broad subject areas: Tribal governance, community development, health and human services, land and natural resources, and a catch-all “other” category that includes issues such as anti-defamation and mascots, federal recognition and international issues.

This year, the national organization outdid itself, passing 76 resolutions – four more than last year’s record 72.

Health care was a major focus. NCAI delegates passed more than 12 resolutions dealing with improving health care, battling drug abuse and protecting women and children.

Two of the resolutions support the health care reform efforts underway in Congress.

A resolution titled “Support for American Indian and Alaska Native Provisions in Health Insurance Reform Legislation in the 111th Congress” outlines the NCAI’s support for the principles delineated in Obama’s health care reform initiative, including ending discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions; preventing insurance companies from dropping coverage when people get sick and need it the most; eliminating extra charges for things such as mammograms and flu shots; protecting Medicare for seniors and eliminating the “donut hole” that requires huge out of pocket expenses for prescription drugs; and providing affordable health care choices including a public option.

Another health care resolution acknowledges the U.S. federal government’s “legal and moral obligation” to provide health care services to all American Indians and Alaska Natives – an obligation expressed in treaties, legislation, executive orders and Supreme Court decisions. It calls on Congress to include the following concepts in any health care reform legislation:

• Protect and strengthen Indian health care.

• Exempt Indian people from individual penalties. “Any health care reform legislation must reflect the fact that Indian people have already paid for health care by ceding millions of acres of land. We should not be held to any individual financial penalty for failing to acquire or purchase health insurance,” the resolution states.

• Make Indian people eligible for insurance subsidies. Indians must be included in government insurance subsidies in order to participate in whatever national health care plan is provided. The resolution also calls for tribal governments to be able to pay for insurance premiums, cost sharing or co-pay requirements on their citizens’ behalf.

• Provider protection. Legislation is needed to assure Indian health care providers working in remote areas receive payment when they provide services to patients enrolled in an exchange plan.

Another health-related resolution calls for the expansion of medical assistance programs for Indian students in order to increase the number of AI/AN medical professionals. The resolution asks Congress to appropriate “at least $1,750,000” in fiscal year 2010 for the Indians into Medical Program – an increase of $1 million – and to increase that amount by $200,000 each year.

A resolution concerning the Indian Child Welfare Act supports an amendment that would make the act’s “placement preference” mandate enforceable in federal court in lawsuits brought by immediate family members, Indian grandparents, and other Indian relatives of Indian children who are removed from their parents. The amendment would make this right of civil action retroactive for any Indian person whose right to preferred placement wasn’t adequately recognized and acted on by any state court or state agency since 1978 when ICWA was passed.

A resolution to protect the “health and human rights of present and future generations” urges the United States government to ratify and implement the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), an international instrument adopted by the United Nations to eliminate global production and exposure to these dangerous chemicals.

The chemicals are so widespread that indigenous people in the Arctic have the highest levels of POP pollutants in their blood and breast milk even though the chemicals have never been produced there.

The U.S. is one of the few nations that have not ratified the convention.

Other resolutions support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, forward funding for tribal colleges and universities, implementing Indian preference in hiring within the Interior Department, environmental protection, and opposition to legalization of Internet gambling, and more. All the resolutions are posted online.