Udall Pushes For Additional Tribal & Urban Indian Health Facilities Funding In Next COVID-19 Relief Package

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall

U.S. SENATE News:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, along with U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), joined 10 of their colleagues in sending a letter to Senate leadership urging additional funding for Indian Health Service (IHS), Tribal Health Programs and Urban Indian Health Organizations (I/T/U) to recover from significant COVID-19 related losses in revenue.

“I/T/U facilities provide critical access to health care for 2.6 million American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) across the United States,” the lawmakers wrote. “These facilities serve not only some of the most remote communities in the country but also patient populations that face comparatively higher rates of underlying health issues that make them highly susceptible to COVID-19, including hypertension, asthma, cancer, and heart and cardiovascular disease. As such, I/T/U facilities are vital for ensuring Native communities are not disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.” 

“Without funding to address these operations funding shortfalls, Tribal and Urban Indian health care facilities may be in danger of closing, and the health disparities that already exist in Indian Country will become further exacerbated. Failure to secure the necessary funds and resources to provide COVID-19 related care is putting these communities at risk,” the lawmakers continued.

“In order to ensure the sustainability and operational health of I/T/U sites around the country, we urge you to include a significant appropriation specifically dedicated to supporting I/T/U health care facilities. This will ensure that funding is provided in a way that more closely meets the needs of all IHS assisted facilities,” the lawmakers concluded.

In March, Udall fought to include over $1 billion in dedicated COVID-19 health care funding for Indian Country in the CARES Act.

Last month, Udall and Senate Democrats led efforts to include $750 million for testing in Tribal communities in the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act and secured a commitment from the White House to reserve a portion of the Provider Relief Fund for direct assistance to IHS facilities. 

April 22, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it would make a $400 million targeted allocation to IHS facilities from the Provider Relief Fund. HHS indicated to Tribal leaders and congressional staff that HHS would allow qualifying IHS facilities to apply for other targeted allocations from the Provider Relief Fund, including an allocation for rural providers and another for COVID-19 high impact areas. However, this week, HHS informed Congress and Tribal leaders that they had altered the Department’s decision to allow IHS facilities to participate in the additional Provider relief Fund targeted allocations – despite the fact that some IHS providers are located in remote areas and others, like those serving the Navajo Nation, are seeing one of the highest incidents rates of COVID-19 in the U.S.   

Joining Udall, Harris and Feinstein on the letter are Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Angus King (I-Maine), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).

The full text of the letter is available here.

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