WASHINGTON – Today, H.R. 5221 or the bipartisan Urban Indian Health Confer Act, introduced by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03), passed the U.S. House of Representatives.
The legislation requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to confer with urban Indian organizations (UIOs) on health care policies and initiatives for American Indians and Alaska Natives living in urban areas. Currently, only the Indian Health Service (IHS) is required to confer with UIOs even though most American Indians and Alaska Natives—roughly 70 percent—live and seek health care in urban areas outside of tribal lands.
“Ensuring that UIOs receive equity at the Department of Health and Human Services is sound public health policy and upholds the U.S. government’s federal trust responsibility to Indian Country,” said Rep. Grijalva. “Passage of the Urban Indian Health Confer Act will provide urban Indian health organizations with a critical role in planning and decision making for Alaska Natives and American Indians. I look forward to working with my counterparts in the Senate to get this bill over the finish line and onto the President’s desk.”
“Urban Indian Organizations are on the frontlines of serving Native communities and improving health outcomes among underserved communities that have been hit hardest by COVID-19,” said Rep. Gallego. “NATIVE HEALTH in my District provides not only health care, but culturally-relevant programming, meal support, and social services to the Phoenix urban Indian community. I am proud to support this bill to give NATIVE HEALTH and all UIOs a say in federal decision making.”
While IHS is the primary health care provider for those receiving care within tribal areas, UIOs are a critical part of the health care system, and serve the citizens of 574 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes across the country. The absence of a legal requirement for HHS to confer with UIOs on healthcare-related policies has exacerbated severe inequities in health care access and quality for Native Americans throughout the country.
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, HHS did not make UIOs aware of the need to weigh in on the Department’s vaccine rollout plan until the day of the deadline, despite congressional and tribal support for UIOs being included early in the process. As a result, vaccine distribution for many urban American Indians and Alaska Natives was significantly delayed.
The bill is cosponsored by Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill.), Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), David P. Joyce (D-Ohio), Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.), Better McCollum (D-Minn.), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Melanie Ann Stansbury (D-N.M.), Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), and Don Young (R-Alaska).
The bill is endorsed by the National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH).
Statement of Support
“We are thankful for the passage of the Urban Indian Health Confer Act in the House today and particularly for the leadership of Chairman Grijalva. Establishing proper urban confer policies across all HHS agencies has been long overdue and exacerbated amid the current public health crisis ravaging Indian Country. We welcome the federal government’s effort to further fulfill their trust and treaty obligation for all American Indians and Alaska Natives, including those residing in urban areas.” – Walter Murillo, Chief Executive Officer of NATIVE HEALTH and President of NCUIH
Rep. Grijalva’s speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in favor of the Urban Indian Health Confer Act can be found here.