Washington, D.C. – House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today announced the introduction of H.R. 2376, which will extend federal employee health benefits (FEHB) to employees of Urban Indian Organizations (UIOs) and Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs).
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H.R. 2376 takes an important step to increase health equity and address health disparities for tribal employees. Although employees at UIOs and TCUs are considered public service employees, they are largely ineligible for both FEHB and dental and vision insurance. This inequity creates recruitment and retention issues for these entities, which are vital to Indian Country.
“Employees at Urban Indian Organizations and Tribal Colleges and Universities are providing an invaluable service to better public health and education in Indian Country—they deserve to receive the same benefits as other public service employees,” said Grijalva. “This bill provides a simple, but significant legislative solution to establish parity for these critical entities, while also upholding the federal trust responsibility. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to act quickly on this legislation.”
UIOs work in conjunction with the Indian Health Service to provide health care to urban American Indian and Alaska Native populations living outside of tribal jurisdictions. These health care centers offer a variety of culturally comprehensive medical services, including primary care, behavioral health care, traditional medicine, and social and community services. Since more than 70% of all American Indians and Alaska Natives live in urban or suburban areas, UIOs maintain a critical role in ensuring the health and well-being of these populations.
Currently, 35 TCUs serve approximately 300,000 American Indian and Alaska Native students across the country. TCUs are primarily located within rural regions of the country and provide more affordable higher education, which is centered in strengthening Native cultures, languages, and traditions. In total, TCUs offer 358 programs, including associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, apprenticeships, and certificates.
Original cosponsors of H.R. 2376 include Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.), Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-W.I.).
Supporting organizations of H.R. 2376 include the National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH) and American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC).
“Tribal Colleges and Universities, like the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in my district, play an incredibly important role in providing a world-class education to Indigenous students across the United States,” said Rep. Stansbury. “TCU instructors should have access to federal health plans, just like every other federal employee. We must do everything we can to recruit and retain instructors at TCUs to support the educators dedicated to our students’ success.”
“Tribal education and health care professionals are essential workers, who serve hundreds of thousands of American Indian and Alaska Native students and families,” said Rep. Porter. “These employees deserve the same health benefits available to the rest of our federal workforce. I’m proud to work with Ranking Member Grijalva to get our indigenous communities the comprehensive medical care they need, including vision and dental coverage.”
Statements of Support
“Access to the Federal Employee Health Benefits program has been instrumental to the Nebraska Urban Indian Health Council’s ability to provide our employees with quality health benefits. Expanding our access to dental and vision coverage will allow us to provide our employees with comprehensive coverage from a single source. We are grateful to Rep. Grijalva for introducing this legislation and for expanding care to ensure that urban Indian organizations are eligible for the program.” – Dr. Donna Polk, CEO of the Nebraska Urban Indian Health Council, a member organization of NCUIH
“The impact of Congressman Grijalva’s legislation to extend federal employee health benefits (FEHB) to all Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) will be tremendous and transformative for TCU employees, families, and communities,” said Carrie Billy, AIHEC’s President & CEO. “We applaud Mr. Grijalva for his leadership in addressing a costly oversight that now limits all but two TCUs from participating in the program. Through this simple change, all TCUs and their employees will have — for the first time – choice in health insurance plans at rates they can afford.”
According to Dr. Sandra Boham, President of Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Mont., her college could not afford the premiums with previous plans. “FEHB made insurance affordable so we could continue to provide health insurance coverage. Once we joined FEHB, the cost per employee went down and more of our staff and faculty enrolled. Employees and their families now can access health care before conditions become serious. That’s a good thing.”