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Lankford Aims to Create Parity within Indian Health Care System

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) was joined today by Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), both members of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, to introduce the Urban Indian Health Confer Act to amend the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to confer with urban Indian organizations about health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) living in urban areas—a critical step that will create parity within the Indian Health System.

“We need the Department of Health and Human Services to communicate with all the Indian health organizations, including those serving urban areas, which is currently a disconnect in the process for Indian health care,” said Lankford. “Oklahoma has the second-largest urban Indian patient population, proudly serving patients in clinics in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Our common-sense bill ensures urban Indian organizations can partner with HHS just like any other federal health entity.”

“American Indian and Alaska Native people living in urban areas deserve an active voice in the policies that affect them,” said Smith. “That’s why I introduced the bipartisan Urban Indian Health Confer Act which will help to facilitate the open and free exchange of information and opinions between federal agencies and urban Indian organizations. It is a critical step towards creating parity within the Indian Health System.”

“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,” said National Council of Urban Indian Health CEO, Francys Crevier (Algonquin). “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.”

The Indian health system is made up of the Indian Health Service (IHS), Tribal health programs and urban Indian organizations (UIOs). UIOs provide culturally competent medical, dental, and specialty care for the over 70 percent of AI/ANs who live in urban centers. The Urban Indian Health Confer Act would require all agencies within the HHS to confer with UIOs where policies affect them. Currently only the IHS is required to do so. The policy will ensure that UIOs can fulfill their essential role in providing health care to AI/ANs in urban areas and that the federal government lives up to its trust responsibilities to Indian Country.