WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Murkowski today offered the following remarks on the need to pass the Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments of 2007:

I rise to join my colleague Senator Dorgan on S.1200, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments of 2007. As Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs, we join to offer this legislation as a culmination of considerable bi-partisan efforts over several Congresses by Members on both sides of the aisle. We have worked this bill through three Committees of jurisdiction – Indian Affairs, Finance and HELP – before finally bringing this bill to the Senate floor.

This bill is intended to bring new hope for Indian health. It represents a big step toward the goal of providing our First Americans with health care that is on par with what other Americans enjoy. I am encouraged that we have this opportunity to produce legislation in support of that goal.

This day has been much too long in coming. Efforts to enact comprehensive reforms for the Indian Health Care Improvement Act began in 1999. This Act was extended for one year through 2001 by legislation introduced by my friend Senator John Thune while he was Member of the House of Representatives.

Since then, the Indian Affairs Committee has shepherded several reauthorization bills through multiple Congresses, through multiple hearings and mark-ups. But it has yet to be reauthorized despite these considerable efforts.

This bill would reauthorize and amend the Indian Health Care Improvement Act as well as applicable parts of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act and the Social Security Act.

The Indian Health Care Improvement Act provides the basic framework for the delivery of health care services to American Indians and Alaska Natives, which is a federal responsibility arising from the Constitution, treaties and federal court cases. It was first enacted in 1976 and last comprehensively reauthorized in 1992.

Mainstream health care services have changed considerably since the Act was last updated in 1992, so it is vitally important that we authorize updates for this system by passing this bill.

While there are still a few outstanding issues that need to be resolved, they are not central to the principal parts of this bill, and I am confident that we can deal with them if our colleagues continue to work with us cooperatively and in a spirit of bipartisanship.