Udall, Luján, New Mexico Delegation Introduce Legislation to Address Health Disparities for Native Americans Living in Urban Areas Off the Reservations

Published April 16, 2019

The Urban Indian Health Parity Act will help expand services and improve care

WASHINGTON — On Monday, U.S. Senators Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján, Assistant Speaker of the House, along with U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small, introduced bicameral legislation to improve Medicaid for Native patients who receive services at Urban Indian Health Programs. The Urban Indian Health Parity Act is also cosponsored by ten other U.S. Senators and 13 other members of the House of Representatives.

The Indian Health Service (IHS) is the primary federal agency responsible for providing health care to American Indian and Alaska Natives through federally operated facilities that provide services directly on reservation lands, Tribally run facilities, and urban Indian nonprofit facilities. All three types of facilities are available in New Mexico.

Federally and Tribally operated IHS facilities are reimbursed at a higher federal rate for Medicaid patients than their urban Indian health counterparts. This bill would balance the scales by providing 100 percent parity in federal reimbursement rates for all three types of facilities, allowing IHS-funded urban facilities to expand care and services for their Native American patients.  There are approximately 43 urban Indian health facilities in 19 states across the country, including as First Nations Healthsource in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“The federal government’s trust and treaty responsibilities to Native Americans do not stop at the reservation boundary.  Congress must ensure every Native American has access to quality health care — including the nearly 70 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives that live in urban areas,” Udall said. “This legislation is a common-sense measure to establish parity for Urban Indian Health Programs.  It will make sure we are building a stronger, better Indian Health Service system for generations to come.”

“Almost 70 percent of American Indians and Alaskan Natives live outside of Native lands. This bill will go a long way to ensure all native people – regardless of where they live – can receive culturally competent health care,” said Assistant Speaker Luján.

“This legislation will ensure the Urban Indian Health Program in New Mexico can benefit from Medicaid funding to support expanded services and improve health care outcomes. Too often, our tribal communities in both rural and urban areas face unique challenges with access to affordable health care, insurance, and services.  I’m proud to cosponsor this effort and will continue fighting to keep quality health care accessible and affordable for all New Mexicans,” said Heinrich. 

“Access to healthcare shouldn’t have to be a burden for our communities just because they live in urban areas. Unfortunately, there are gaps in the healthcare system for urban Indians which is part of the failure of the federal government’s trust responsibility. By leveling the playing field for Urban Indian Health Programs through Medicaid reimbursements, we’re working to close gaps in life-saving healthcare services for Native Americans who live in cities,” said Haaland, Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus.

“It’s long past time that the Urban Indian Health Programs has the right resources to meet the unmet needs of the communities it serves.  Health care accessibility is just as critical as affordability, and we need to make sure that every conversation about health care address both of these challenges.  By improving Medicaid reimbursements for Native patients, we have helped to improve health care accessibility for thousands of Native patients.  I am proud to co-sponsor this bill with the rest of the NM delegation, and I will continue to fight to ensure the health care needs of all Native communities, whether they are in rural or urban environments,” said Torres Small.

The National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Health Board, and the National Council of Urban Indian Health support the bills.

“Since the devastating relocation era, Indian Country has been fighting for parity of urban Indian Health Programs in alignment with the trust responsibility of the U.S. government,” said Maureen RosetteBoard President of the National Council of Urban Indian Health.  “This simple administrative fix to give urban programs the same 100% FMAP rate IHS and Tribal facilities receive, corrects a legislative oversight and is a win for states and Indian Country that will allow for expanded access to medical and community health-related services for urban Indians.”

“This legislation is truly a step in the right direction to ensure American Indians and Alaska Natives living in urban settings have more access to high-quality, culturally-competent care,” said Francys CrevierExecutive Director of the National Council of Urban Indian Health. “Thank you to Senator Udall, Congressman Lujan, and the rest of the cosponsors who truly care about the healthcare of all American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

The legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeffrey Merkley (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representatives Don Young (R-Alaska), Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.), Raul Ruiz (D-Calif), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Kendra Horn (D-Okla.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Adam Smith (D-Wash.) Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.)

The full text of the bill can be found HERE.

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