WASHINGTON – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Tom Udall and Congressman Ben Ray Luján introduced bicameral legislation to improve Medicaid for Native patients who receive services at Urban Indian Health Programs. The Urban Indian Health Parity Act is also cosponsored by U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich.
The Indian Health Service (IHS) is the primary federal agency responsible for providing health care to American Indian and Alaska Natives through federally operated facilities that provide services directly on reservation lands, Tribally run facilities, and urban Indian nonprofit run facilities. All three types of facilities are available in New Mexico.
Federally and Tribally operated IHS facilities are reimbursed at a higher rate for Medicaid patients than their urban Indian health counterparts. This bill would balance the scales by providing 100 percent parity in reimbursement rates for all three types of facilities, allowing urban facilities to expand care and services for their Native American patients.
"The federal government has a treaty responsibility to ensure every Native American has access to quality, affordable health care — whether they live in an urban community like Albuquerque or Farmington or on a reservation," Udall said. "This legislation is a common-sense measure to ensure parity between IHS facilities so Native Americans on and off the reservation have access to the care they need."
“We should not be putting barriers between individuals and health services they need,” noted Luján. “Our legislation will help guarantee that Native Americans who live in places like Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Farmington have the same access to health services as those who live on a reservation.”
“This legislation will ensure the Urban Indian Health Program in New Mexico can benefit from Medicaid funding to support expanded services and improve health care outcomes,” said Heinrich. “Too often, our tribal communities in both rural and urban areas face unique challenges with access to affordable health care, insurance, and services. I’m proud to cosponsor this effort and will continue fighting to keep quality health care accessible and affordable for all New Mexicans.”
The National Congress of American Indians, the National Indian Health Board, the National Council of Urban Indian Health support the bills. Linda Son-Stone, executive director of First Nations Community Healthsource in Albuquerque, expressed her support for the bill. Stone stated the bill “will allow Urban Indian Health Programs to provide more quality health services to urban Indians, who currently experience health care conditions and outcomes that are markedly inferior to their non-Indian counterparts in urban areas.”