On May 26, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) introduced a bipartisan bill that would give Indigenous people living in urban areas equal access to health care as those living on reservations.

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The Indian Health Service (IHS), an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for providing federal health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives throughout the country. That care is supplemented with Tribal Health Programs and 

Urban Indian Organizations (UIOs), or medical, dental, and specialty care for the more than 70 percent of Natives who don’t live on or near a reservation.

Currently, only the Indian Health Service is required to consult with Urban Indian Organizations on matters relating to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. This proposed legislation, named the ‘Urban Indian Health Confer Act,’ would require Indian Health Service and other agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services to confer with Urban Indian Organizations where policies affect them. 

Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said the legislation would help facilitate “the open and free exchange of information and opinions between federal agencies and urban Indian organizations.”

“American Indian and Alaska Native people living in urban areas deserve an active voice in the policies that affect them,” Sen. Smith said in a statement. “It is a critical step towards creating parity within the Indian Health System.”

National Council of Urban Indian Health CEO, Francys Crevier (Algonquin), said in a statement that agencies have been operating as if only the Indian Health Service has a trust obligation to Indigenous peoples in America, which places an undue burden on IHS. 

“It is imperative that UIOs have avenues for direct communication with agencies charged with overseeing the health of their [American Indian and Alaska Native] AI/AN patients, especially during the present health crisis,” he said. 

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The Native News Health Desk is made possible by a generous grant from the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation as well as sponsorship support from the American Dental Association. This grant funding and sponsorship support have no effect on editorial consideration in Native News Online. 
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Jenna Kunze
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Senior Reporter
Jenna Kunze is a staff reporter covering Indian health, the environment and breaking news for Native News Online. She is also the lead reporter on stories related to Indian boarding schools and repatriation. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Tribal Business News, Smithsonian Magazine, Elle and Anchorage Daily News. Kunze is based in New York.