WASHINGTON, D.C. –Senator Murkowski, the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, today announced that the United States Senate passed S. 1200, comprehensive legislation to modernize the Indian health care delivery system. The bill reauthorizes the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which was last comprehensively reauthorized in 1992, and represents the first effort to comprehensively modernize the Indian health care delivery system in over 15 years. Senator Murkowski co-managed the bill to victory on the Senate floor with Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND).

“I am proud to finally deliver to Alaska Natives and American Indians a greater opportunity to receive the health care they deserve,” said Senator Murkowski. “Their needs have been neglected for far too long, but today, the Senate has passed a bill, by an overwhelming margin, that will carry the Indian health care system into the 21st Century.”

Of interest to Alaska the bill expressly authorizes the Veterans Administration to enter into agreements with the Alaska Native healthcare delivery system to provide care to veterans living in rural areas with reimbursement to the Native health system. Senator Murkowski received testimony during an Anchorage field hearing last November that Native veterans residing in rural Alaska have limited access to the VA healthcare benefits that they earned while serving our country and that the Alaska Native healthcare delivery system is required to subsidize the delivery of care which is the responsibility of the VA.

In response to the high rate of sexual assault and domestic violence in American Indian and Alaska Native communities the bill authorizes domestic and sexual violence prevention and treatment programs, requires protocols and policies for those programs at Indian health facilities and requires that the Indian Health Service and the US Department of Justice work together to improve forensic examinations which will enable more effective prosecutions of these acts of violence.

“I am particularly proud to include in this legislation domestic and sexual violence prevention and treatment programs,” said Senator Murkowski. “For too long this abuse has devastated families and communities in Indian Country.”

Since the last comprehensive reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act in 1992, mainstream health services have changed considerably, furthering the need for this legislation. The bill takes a comprehensive approach to improving Indian health care, including:

• Authorizes Alaska’s Dental Health Aide Therapist program and establishes a process through which the program will be evaluated;

• Attempts to reduce the high rate of youth suicide in American Indian and Alaska Native communities by establishing a demonstration project, co-sponsored by Senator Murkowski, to connect at risk Native youth with behavioral health professionals using telemedicine technology;

• Enables Native health providers to focus more effectively on the needs of Native Elders by expanding offerings in long term care and hospice care;

• Reauthorizes Urban Indian Health Programs which provide basic health services to Alaska Natives residing in Seattle and other urban centers;

• Increases the opportunities for American Indians and Alaska Natives to enter health professions;

• Authorizes the Indian Health Care Improvement Fund to address backlogs in health care services to Indians;

• Authorizes Health Facilities Construction;

• Addresses key components of Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Indian provisions to increase access to health care; and,

• Improves access of the Director of the IHS to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“This is not a bill conceived in an ivory tower,” said Senator Murkowski. “It was written primarily by Indian health care providers and tribal leaders who know the challenges we face in improving the health conditions of our Native people. The leaders of our Alaska Native healthcare delivery system were key players in the process of formulating this legislation. It is an honor and a privilege to give voice to their ideas in the Senate.”