U.S. Senators Tina Smith and James Lankford’s Bipartisan Bill to Expand Health Care Resources for Urban Indian Health Organizations Clears Senate and House

WASHINGTON, D.C. [12/21/20]—Bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) to strengthen health resources for urban Indian health organizations amid the pandemic passed the Senate yesterday and the House earlier last week. The legislation will amend the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to create parity within the Indian Health Service system (ITU system). It next heads to the President to be signed into law.

The ITU system is made up of the Indian Health Service, Tribal health programs, and urban Indian organizations (UIOs). UIOs provide culturally competent care for the over 70 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives who live in urban centers, but right now providers at UIOs are not offered the same malpractice liability protection as other providers within the ITU system. Sens. Smith and Lankford’s Coverage for Urban Indian Health Providers Act would expand Federal Torts Claim Act coverage (FTCA) to UIOs, which are currently required to divert already-limited resources away from patient care to cover liability costs.

“This bipartisan legislation will create parity within the Indian Health Service system so urban Indian health organizations can spend their money on efforts to provide care rather than on legal fees,” said Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “This legislation is especially important during the pandemic, which has hit Minnesota’s urban Indigenous communities hard and has forced some urban Indian health organizations to experience financial hardship or even close operations. I’m glad to have worked in a bipartisan way to bring some relief to urban Indian health organizations.”

“Urban Indian health providers should not have to pay more for their liability insurance simply because they are in an urban area. This bill will ensure Tribal health providers can focus funds on care, not court costs,” said Sen. Lankford. “This bill helps clear up disparities in the law that unfairly limit Urban Indian Health Organizations because they cannot currently access liability protection available to other health entities. That omission takes healthcare dollars away from Tribal members. I’m glad we can fix this error of omission for our Tribal members in Oklahoma and nationwide.”

In addition to Sens. Smith and Lankford, the Coverage for Urban Indian Health Providers Act is cosponsored by Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).