U.S. House Assistant Speaker Luján Leads Bipartisan Effort To Tear Down Health Data Barrier For Native Americans

CONGRESSIONAL News:

NAMBE — U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the U.S. House Assistant Speaker, joined bipartisan members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in introducing the Tribal Health Data Improvement Act, legislation that would reaffirm that Tribal public health authorities are entitled access to public health data.

This bill comes after Politico reported earlier this summer that the federal government was withholding life-saving information from Tribal health authorities.

Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) sponsored the legislation, and Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), and Raul Ruiz (D-CA) cosponsored the legislation. 

“Native American Tribes face structural challenges accessing federal public health data that state and local governments can access—data they are entitled to by law. This needs to change. Our bipartisan bill tears down this information barrier so Tribal communities can utilize federal data to help guide their public health decision-making, something that is critically important during the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that Native Americans are being impacted by this pandemic disproportionately. As we continue our work to reduce disparities in health outcomes, access to public health data will help close the gap,” said Luján, Gianforte, Rodgers, Mullin, O’Halleran and Ruiz.

The National Indian Health Board CEO, Stacy A. Bohlen, expressed support for this bill. 

“The National Indian Health Board strongly supports the Tribal Health Data Improvement Act. Tribal Nations, as sovereign governments, are inherent public health authorities providing vital public health programs and services to their citizens and communities,” Bohlen said. “By statute, Tribal Epidemiology Centers (TECs) are also public health authorities, and play a critical role in assisting Tribal governments and Tribal organizations in public health activities. Yet for years, both Tribes and TECs have faced immense challenges in accessing federal and state health data systems necessary to engage in foundational public health work. NIHB applauds Representatives Gianforte and Luján for leading the Tribal Health Data Improvement Act. This bill will help ensure Tribes and TECs have direct access to federal healthcare and public health surveillance systems, and require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to work directly with Tribes to address widespread misclassification and undersampling of American Indians and Alaska Natives on birth and death records, and in public health surveillance systems.”

BACKGROUND: 

June 17, Congressman Luján criticized the Trump administration for its disparate treatment of Tribal Epidemiology Centers during a hearing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health. In response to Congressman Luján’s questioning during a full Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on June 23, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield committed to sharing COVID-19 data with all 12 Tribal Epidemiology Centers.  On July 1, Congressman Luján signed a bipartisan letter to Director Redfield and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar requesting information on CDC’s policies and practices to ensure Tribal Epidemiology Centers have access to all public health surveillance data, as required by law.

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