Indian Health Service endorses urban Indian health Federal Tort Claims Act bill at Senate Indian Affairs hearing

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National Council of Urban Indian Health provided written testimony for legislative and oversight hearing on COVID-19 in Indian Country; many members of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee expressed support for urban Indian health parity

News Release

National Council of Urban Indian Health

Today, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) held an oversight hearing on “Evaluating the Response and Mitigation to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Native Communities” and a legislative hearing on S. 3650, the Coverage for Urban Indian Health Providers Act. National Council of Urban Indian Health Vice President Robyn Sunday-Allen, who is also the CEO of the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic, submitted emphasizing the importance S. 3650, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

S. 3650 is a bipartisan bill – introduced by Senators Lankford, McSally, Smith, and Udall – that includes a technical fix to provide parity in the Indian Health Service (IHS) system by extending Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) coverage to urban Indian organization (UIO) employees such that urban Indian organizations would no longer need to utilize limited federal funds to purchase costly malpractice insurance. 

During the hearing, many Senators emphasized the critical nature of this legislative fix to help expand resources for urban Indian health services. Chairman Hoeven offered remarks on S. 3650 and stated that “Urban Indian organizations are not offered malpractice liability protections that are already provided to Indian Health Service and Tribal health programs’ employees. Urban Indian organizations are providing culturally competent care to natives living in urban areas.” Senator Udall stated the Federal Tort Claims Act bill is an "excellent example of the type of practical bipartisan solution we should all be pushing for. This bill not only creates parity with the Indian Health Service system but also helps urban Indian health programs reduce operating costs due to COVID-19 budget related shortfalls.” Indian Health Service Director Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee also expressed support mentioning that the "Indian Health Service endorses the policy to extend Federal Tort Claims Act Coverage to urban Indian organizations, which is consistent with [Indian Health Service's] FY 2021 budget request". 

S. 3650 represents a technical fix that has long enjoyed broad bipartisan support, including from both sides of the aisle and both Chambers of Congress as well as from the Administration and the Tribal Budget Formulation Work Group. Indian Health Service facilities and Tribal Health Programs, as well as Community Health Centers, already receive Federal Tort Claims Act coverage. 

A recording of the hearing can be found here.

Next Steps

Given S. 3650's broad support across the aisles, in both chambers, and by Indian Country, National Council of Urban Indian Health will continue to advocate for its swift passage in the next COVID-19 package, which the Senate is expected to take up later in July.

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