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Indian health should be part of health reform bill

Minnesota's senators are urging Democratic leaders to include American Indian health provisions in Senate health reform legislation.

Democrats Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar joined 10 other senators in writing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Tuesday. They ask that the previously introduced Indian Health Care Improvement Reauthorization and Extension Act be rolled into the health care reform bill making its way to the Senate floor.

"In many cases, native Americans in the United States live in Third World conditions with vast health disparities and medical needs," they wrote Reid. The Indian Heath Act "would go a long way in addressing these health disparities amongst our First Americans. Thus, we believe that any national health care reform bill that is considered by the Senate needs to include Indian health care provisions."

The House-passed health care reform bill contained a permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, as well as many updates and improvements to Indian health care, they noted.

Provisions of the Senate bill include:

- Permanently re-authorize all current Indian health care programs.

- Authorize programs to increase the recruitment and retention of health care professionals, such as updates to the scholarship program, demonstration programs which promote new, innovative models of health care, to improve access to health care for Indians and Alaska natives.

- Authorize long-term care, including home health care, assisted living, and community based care. Current law provides for none of these forms of long-term care.

- Establish mental and behavioral health programs beyond alcohol and substance abuse, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and child sexual abuse and domestic violence prevention programs.

- Establish demonstration projects that provide incentives to use innovative facility construction methods, such as modular component construction and mobile health stations, to save money and improve access to health care services.

- Require that the IHS budget account for medical inflation rates and population growth, in order to combat the dramatic under funding of the Indian health system.

Among other provisions, the bill creates epidemiology centers and an Office of Indian Men's Health to complement the existing Office of Indian Women's Health.

"Indian Americans continue to live with a health care system that is completely unacceptable," Franken said Wednesday. "As we reform our national health care system, we must fix the disparities faced by our First Americans."