House committees approve Gallego bills to end copays and improve care for Native veterans
Office of U.S. Representative Ruben Gallego (D-AZ-07)
Last week the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Veterans Affairs Committee passed three bipartisan bills authored by Representative Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) that were aimed at improving access to high-quality, affordable health care for Native Veterans and Native Americans living in urban areas. The bills would also serve to bolster an Indian health system that has suffered severe financial and resource shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
More information about the three bills passed below:
- H.R. 6535, the Coverage for Urban Indian Health Providers Act would extend coverage under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) to urban Indian organizations (UIOs), which are currently forced to spend limited financial resources on expensive liability policies. Urban Indian organizations have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, with over 80% of clinics reporting having to cut health services due to resource shortages and 4 programs closing their doors. H.R. 6535 would allow urban clinics to reinvest up to an additional $250,000 per year directly into patient care.
- H.R. 6237, the PRC for Native Veterans Act would require the Veterans Health Administration to reimburse not only direct care to Native veterans provided by a Tribe or Indian Health Service, as it currently does, but specialty and contract care provided through a Tribe or Indian Health Service as well. Under the current policy, Native veterans often must drive long distances to the nearest VA for certain types of care – a particularly dangerous activity in the era of social distancing. H.R. 6237 would cut down on redundant VA visits and ensure Native veterans can access whatever care they need no matter where they choose to seek it.
- H.R. 4908, the Native American PACT Act would prohibit the Veterans Health Administration from charging American Indian and Alaska Native veterans a copayment in order to access health care. Charging Native veterans a copay for federally funded care violates the United States’ centuries-old treaty obligations to Indian Tribes and represents a significant barrier to access for Native vets, who serve in our armed forces at a higher rate than any other demographic group.
Representative Gallego made the following statement:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately ravaged Indigenous communities. It is more important than ever that Native Americans have easy and affordable access to high quality health care – especially groups that already face unique barriers to care like Native veterans and urban Indians.
“Native Americans have served our country in every war since the American Revolution and yet they still have to pay out-of-pocket for care at the VA or jump through hoops to receive it in their own communities. Urban Indian organizations like the ones that serve my constituents in Phoenix are already working off shoestring budgets and shouldn’t have to sacrifice patient care to shell out millions for liability coverage.
“I am proud that the Natural Resources and Veterans Affairs Committee understand the urgent need to move these bipartisan, commonsense bills to help take care of Native veterans and urban Indians, and I look forward to seeing them passed into law this year.”
A recording of the House Natural Resources Committee consideration of H.R. 6535 and H.R. 6237 can be found here. A recording of the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s consideration of H.R. 4908 can be found here.