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Pallone: Democratic Healthcare Legislation Would Dramatically Improve Native American Healthcare

October 21, 2003
Press Release

"I am very pleased to be a part of this press conference today to unveil landmark legislation addressing health disparities. Democrats in the Senate and House have been working together on this bill, the Healthcare Equality and Accountability Act of 2003, with the goal of bridging the divide in health care between the general population and minority communities, including African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans-Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans.

"I want to highlight the plight of Native Americans, who in particular experience tremendous disparity in health care. Federal delivery of health services and maintaining and improving the health of Indians are required by the federal governments historical and unique legal Trust responsibility with Indian tribes.

"Despite such services, the unmet health needs of Indians remain alarmingly severe and the health status of Indians is far below the health status of the general population. For example, Indians suffer a death rate for diabetes mellitus that is 318 percent higher than all other races, a pneumonia and influenza death rate 52 percent greater, a tuberculosis death rate that is 650 percent greater, and a death rate from alcoholism that is 670 percent higher than all other races.

"This legislation is essential for bridging the gap in the health care divide between Native Americans and the general population. First, Indian Health Service (IHS) funding becomes a guaranteed entitlement program like Medicare and Social Security that ensures access to essential services for both Indian Country and urban Indians. In order to eliminate health disparities, its critical we provide guaranteed federal dollars to the IHS and promote the health care and well being of Indian Country.

"In addition, this legislation raises the health status of Native Americans by elevating the Director of the I ndian Health Service to an Assistant Secretary for Health within the Department of Health and Human Services. This action recognizes the importance of the federal governments role in carrying out its trust responsibility in which the new Assistant Secretary would serve as an advocate for appropriate Indian health policy and would promote critical consultation on Indian health related matters.

"This Democratic health disparities bill is vital to the health status of Native Americans, and is important for ensuring that all Americans are afforded their right to adequate, affordable and accessible health care."