Ruiz, Pallone Introduce Legislation to Address Native American Health Disparities

July 1, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. (CA-36) and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) introduced two bills to address health disparities in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Taken together, the Native Behavioral Health Access Improvement Act and the Native Health and Wellness Act would address the gap in access to health care resources and achieve better health outcomes for Tribal communities.  

“Tribal communities across the nation face increasingly stark health disparities and the federal government has a long way to go to improve health care and fulfill their trust responsibility to native populations,” Dr. Ruiz said. “I am honored to work with Chairman Pallone to introduce these bills that will make investments in correcting the public health crisis afflicting Indian Country and establish new programs to address behavioral health. I am determined to bring health equity to Tribes and spur the next generation of Native health care professionals.”  

“Far too many Tribal communities lack proper access to health and mental health care services,” said Energy and Commerce Chairman Pallone. “Unfortunately, these disparities have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which we know has had a devastating impact on American Indians and Alaska Natives. These two bills will help close these disparities by increasing access to health care and providing dedicated resources to improve behavioral health care for Tribal communities. I look forward to working with Congressman Ruiz to get these critically important bills passed and signed into law.” 

BACKGROUND

American Indian and Alaska Native communities are experiencing a mental health and substance abuse crisis, particularly among young people. What’s more, some American Indians and Alaska Natives have been denied benefits provided to Tribal communities under the Affordable Care Act because the definition of “Indian” is inconsistent throughout the law.

H.R. 4251, the Native Behavioral Health Access Improvement Act, establishes a Special Behavioral Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives, modeled after the Special Diabetes Program for Indians, and makes the definition of “Indian” consistent throughout the Affordable Care Act.  

H.R. 4283, the Native Health and Wellness Act creates a new grant program to recruit, train, and mentor native youth and young adults for careers in health care and establishes a new Public Health Block Grant program to address infrastructure needs for tribal communities. Indian country has struggled with a severe health care provider shortage, making it hard for Tribal members to access care. Tribal regions also often lack a robust public health infrastructure because they have historically been left out of the traditional funding mechanisms that have instead gone to states and other local governments. 

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