A bipartisan bill, the Urban Indian Health Confer Act, was introduced on Friday, Sept. 10 by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) with support from Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Tom Cole (R-OK).
If passed, the bill has the opportunity to fix ongoing long standing parity issues within the Indian health system.
Agencies and offices within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would be required to confer with Urban Indian Organizations (UIOs) on policies and initiatives related to healthcare for urban American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN). The importance of facilitating conversations between the many federal branches within HHS and UIO-stakeholders. Currently, only the Indian Health Service (IHS) has a legal-obligation to confer with UIOs.
Chairman Grijalva said in a statement:
“HHS’ failure to communicate with UIOs about healthcare policies that impact urban Indian communities is inconsistent with the federal trust responsibility and contrary to sound public health policy. The Urban Indian Health Confer Act will establish direct communication for UIOs across the entire department and ensure that urban Indian communities are aware of healthcare policy changes.”
Clearly, the lack of communication between departments has a negative impact on Native communities who use healthcare services provided by HHS and UIOs.
“Agencies have been operating as if only IHS has a trust obligation to AI/ANs, and that causes an undue burden to IHS to be in all conversations regarding Indian Country in order to talk with agencies. It is imperative that UIOs have avenues for direct communication with agencies charged with overseeing the health of their AI/AN patients, especially during the present health crisis,” National Council of Urban Indian Health CEO, Francys Crevier (Algonquin) said.
Support for the bill is clear among stakeholders in Indian Country. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) just recently passed a resolution to “Call for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary to implement an Urban Confer Policy across the HHA and its divisions”.