Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee
House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) on Friday introduced the bipartisan Urban Indian Health Confer Act to require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to confer with urban Indian organizations (UIOs) on health care policies and initiatives for American Indians and Alaska Natives living in urban areas. Currently, only the Indian Health Service (IHS) is required to confer with urban Indian organizations despite the fact that the vast majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives — roughly 70 percent—live and seek health care in urban areas outside of Indian Health Service jurisdictions.
While the Indian Health Service is the primary health care provider for those receiving care within tribal jurisdictions, urban Indian organizations are a critical part of the health care system that serves the citizens of 574 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes across the country. The absence of a legal requirement for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to confer with urban Indian organizations on health care-related policies has exacerbated already severe inequities in health care access and health care quality for Native Americans around the country.
American Indians and Alaska Natives experience far worse health outcomes than other Americans, including higher rates of chronic disease such as diabetes and liver disease.
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services did not make urban Indian organizations aware of the need to weigh in on the Department’s vaccine rollout plan until the day of the deadline, despite congressional and tribal support for urban Indian organizations being included early in the process. As a result, vaccine distribution for many urban American Indians and Alaska Natives was significantly delayed.
“Urban Indian health organizations are a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of American Indians and Alaska Natives each year, and they need a role in federal health planning that reflects the seriousness of that responsibility,” Grijalva said. “I’m proud that the Urban Indian Health Confer Act will give urban Indian organizations the equal footing they always should have had in federal decision-making. Our federal trust responsibility demands nothing less.”
The bill is cosponsored by Reps. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).
The bill is endorsed by the National Council of Urban Indian Health.
Statement of Support
“Agencies have been operating as if only the Indian Health Service has a trust obligation to American Indians and Alaska Natives, and that causes an undue burden to the Indian Health Service to be in all conversations regarding Indian Country in order to talk with agencies. It is imperative that urban Indian organizations have avenues for direct communication with agencies charged with overseeing the health of their American Indian and Alaska Native patients, especially during the present health crisis.”
- Francys Crevier (Algonquin), CEO, National Council of Urban Indian Health