Good news for American Indians yesterday, as the U.S. Senate passed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act by an 83-10 margin.  A similar version must still get through two House committees before it makes it to the floor.

The act, S. 1200, would distribute $35 billion for American Indian health care through the Indian Health Service over 10 years, placing emphasis on building preventive care capacity. Reauthorization is long overdue: according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the IHCIA was last authorized in 1992 (pre-Clinton health reform) and expired in 2000 (three years before the Iraq war began).   And speaking of war: If $35B sounds like a lot, remember it’s only a quarter of what the U.S. spent in Iraq in 2007 alone (source: Congressional Budget Office). 

This version of the IHCIA, which represents a 17 percent increase in funds, would reinstate many preventive health programs that were cut over the last decade as funding remained flat in the face of rapid inflation, and legally protect the appropriation from future cuts.

Here’s a story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about the bill, which includes these startling facts:

  • infant mortality rate is 150 percent greater for Native Americans than  Caucasians. 
  • Native Americans are 2.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.
  • life expectancy for Native Americans is nearly six years less than the rest of the U.S. population.
  • Suicide rate for Native Americans is 2.5 times higher than the national average.
  • Health care expenditures for Native Americans are less than half of what America spends for federal prisoners.
Startling stuff, and worth remembering when we talk about universal health care and reforming the American health care system.