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PASSED: Senators Lankford, Smith & Rep. Mullin Ensure Legal Fund Access for Urban Indian Health Providers

WASHINGTON, DC – Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Tina Smith (D-MN) and Representative Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) today applauded final passage of their legislation, Coverage for Urban Indian Health Provider’s Act which passed both the US House and Senate this week. Lankford introduced the Senate bill in May in response to issues impacting Tribal health care.

“Urban Indian health providers should not have to pay more for their liability insurance simply because they are in an urban area. This bill will ensure Tribal health providers can focus funds on care, not court costs,” said Lankford. “This bill helps clear up disparities in the law that unfairly limit Urban Indian Health Organizations because they cannot currently access liability protection available to other health entities. That omission takes healthcare dollars away from Tribal members. I’m glad we can fix this error of omission for our Tribal members in Oklahoma and nationwide.”

“This bipartisan legislation will create parity within the Indian Health System so urban Indian health organizations can spend their money on efforts to provide care rather than on legal fees,” said Smith. “This legislation is especially important during the pandemic, which has hit Minnesota’s urban Indigenous communities hard and has forced urban Indian health organizations to experience financial hardship or even close operations. I’m glad to have worked in a bipartisan way to bring some relief to urban Indian health organizations.”

“Urban Indian Health Organizations play a critical role in providing health care to Native Americans, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mullin said. “Our bill ensures they are covered by the FTCA so they won’t have to use their limited resources to cover costly liability insurance. I want to thank Congressman Gallego and Senators Lankford and Smith for working with me on this bipartisan legislation to improve health care for Native Americans.”

The bill amends the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to create parity within the Indian Health System (ITU system), comprised of the Indian Health Service, Tribal health programs, and Urban Indian organizations (UIOs). UIOs provide culturally competent care for the more than 70 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives who live in urban centers, but right now providers at UIOs are not offered the same malpractice liability protection as other Indian Health Care Providers. The bill would expand the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) coverage to UIOs, which are currently required to divert already limited resources away from patient care to cover liability costs.

In May, Lankford offered a detailed list of the resources available to Tribes through the CARES Act and identified specific COVID-19 relief programs available to Tribal members.