Published March 8, 2019
WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M) vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs,Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar calling on him to explain why HHS removed vital health care resources for Tribal communities from its Office of Minority Health and Administration for Native Americans (ANA) websites. In their letter, the senators note that American Indian and Alaska Native populations have a higher uninsured rate and are disproportionately affected by many chronic conditions, making efforts to bring quality care to native populations critically important.
“We write to express our concern that the Department of Human Services (HHS) has reportedly removed federal health services information for Tribal communities from various HHS-run websites,” the senators wrote. “This latest report is strikingly similar to HHS’ failed attempt to permanently remove information that supports health care enrollment among Latino populations — information that was restored only after outreach from Congress in December last year.”
“Congress has made clear its intent to leverage national health programs — like Medicaid, Medicare, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and subsidized coverage on the federal health insurance marketplace — to fulfill its trust and treaty obligations to Tribes and as a supplement to the work of the Indian Health Service,” the senators continued. “These programs have become lifelines for Native families, especially as Indian health facilities face chronic funding shortfalls, and we are therefore deeply troubled that HHS would remove congressionally-directed resources that assist Native communities in accessing them from its websites.”
Udall has fought hard to protect and improve healthcare services in Indian Country. In 2017, Udall led a day of action in the Senate to increase awareness about the devastating impacts repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would have on Indian Country. Udall chaired an emergency roundtable to hear directly from Tribal leaders about the importance of the ACA for Native health. Udall also delivered a floor speech with several colleagues from the Indian Affairs Committee to encourage more members of Congress to consider Indian Country during any discussion about health care. Udall also raised concerns following the introduction of the Graham-Cassidy Trumpcare bill stating it, “would totally dismantle all of the advancements we’ve made to expand access to quality health services for American Indians and Alaska Natives.”