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Bipartisan bill proposes elevating role of Indian Health Service director


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FARMINGTON — A new bill introduced in Congress proposes to elevate the position of the Indian Health Service director to an assistant secretary post within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

U.S. Reps. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., and David Joyce, R-Ohio, introduced the legislation late last week that centers on the agency that is responsible for providing health care services to Native Americans and Alaska Natives.

Boosting the role would provide greater leadership on health issues within the administration and increase attention on addressing the health care status and needs of Native Americans and Alaska Natives, the lawmakers explained in a news release.

"The federal government has an obligation to provide for the health care of tribal members," Stanton said. "Doing all we can to honor that obligation is vital, particularly as tribal communities are once again seeing an explosion of COVID-19 cases. Our bill does what should've been done years ago – elevates Native voices when it comes to making federal policy that affects American Indians and Alaska Natives."

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His office reported that the late U.S. Sen. John McCain first championed the proposal in the mid-1990s, which passed the Senate four times but died in the House.

"The issue has not been revisited since 2010, when efforts were made to include it as part of the Affordable Care Act," the release states.

According to Stanton's office, the effort has received support from the National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Health Board, and the National Council of Urban Indian Health.

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William Smith, chairman of the National Indian Health Board, said the act of introducing the bill is a clear statement on prioritizing health care in Indian Country.

"Elevating the Indian Health Service leadership and authority will amplify the voice and credibility needed to ensure Indian health care receives appropriate attention and support," Smith said. "It is a necessary step in fulfilling the United States trust responsibility and treaty obligations to tribal nations for health care. NIHB stands ready to help support and advance this important legislation."

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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