U.S. Senator Tina Smith Reintroduces Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Coordination Between HHS and Urban Indian Organizations

WASHINGTON, [02.21.23] – U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) reintroduced bipartisan legislation that would help federal programs – from substance use treatment to Medicare and Medicaid – meet the unique needs of Indigenous communities and improve care.

The Urban Indian Health Confer Act would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to confer with urban Indian organizations regarding health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) living in urban areas – a critical step that will improve care for Indigenous communities and create parity between urban Indian organizations (UIOs) and other components of the Indian Health System.

“American Indian and Alaska Native people living in urban areas deserve an active voice in the policies that affect them,” said Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “The bipartisan Urban Indian Health Confer Act will help give them one by facilitating the open and free exchange of information and opinions between federal agencies and urban Indian organizations. It is a critical step towards creating parity within the Indian Health System.”

“Urban Indian Organizations play a critical role in providing health care services to Indian Country,” said Sen. Markwayne Mullin. “It is essential that the Department of Health and Human Services consult with these UIOs to improve patient access to high-quality, affordable, and consistent care. I’m proud to represent a state home to the second-largest Indian population, many of whom will benefit from this bill. Thank you to Senator Smith for joining me on this important bipartisan legislation.”

“The Urban Indian Health Confer Act is a critically important step in addressing urban Indian health disparities. This bill will ensure that HHS, and HHS departments outside of the Indian Health Service, communicate directly with urban Indian organizations (UIOs) on matters relating to urban Native health. It will also ensure that our clinics are properly informed of policy changes and have a formal means of initiating discussion with HHS on policies and programs that affect the health of urban Indian communities. Open communication between HHS and UIOs will allow HHS to become more responsive to the needs of the over seventy percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives residing in urban areas and is necessary to improve urban Indian health. On behalf of the 41 UIOs, NCUIH thanks Senator Tina Smith and Senator Markwayne Mullin for championing this bill,” said NCUIH CEO, Francys Crevier (Algonquin).

The Indian Health System is made up of the Indian Health Service (IHS), Tribal health programs and urban Indian organizations. UIOs provide culturally competent medical, dental and specialty care for the over 70 percent of AI/ANs who live in urban centers. The Urban Indian Health Confer Act would require all agencies within the HHS to confer with UIOs where policies affect them. Currently only the IHS is required to do so.

The policy will help ensure that UIOs can fulfill their essential role in providing health care to AI/ANs in urban areas and that the federal government lives up to its trust responsibilities to Indian Country.

You can read more about the bill here and access the legislative text here.