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Reauthorizing the Indian Health Care Improvement Act

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Earlier this week, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Included in this historic reform of the nation’s health insurance system was the permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA). After the signing ceremony, the President issued a brief statement on the reauthorization:

“Earlier today, I signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health insurance reform bill passed by Congress. In addition to reducing our deficit, making health care affordable for tens of millions of Americans, and enacting some of the toughest insurance reforms in history, this bill also permanently reauthorizes the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which was first approved by Congress in 1976. As a Senator, I co-sponsored this Act back in 2007 because I believe it is unacceptable that Native American communities still face gaping health care disparities. Our responsibility to provide health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives derives from the nation-to-nation relationship between the federal and tribal governments. And today, with this bill, we have taken a critical step in fulfilling that responsibility by modernizing the Indian health care system and improving access to health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

The IHCIA had not been updated or reauthorized since 2000. As the Washington Office of the Navajo Nation has pointed out, permanently reauthorizing the Act “will modernize the Indian health care system and improve health care for 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives.”

For more on what passage of health insurance reform means for Native Americans, check out this article from Indian Country Today. Dr. Yvette Robidaux, Indian Health Service Director, also has a series of informative posts on her blog.