Native Americans Are Facing A Healthcare Crisis

Monday, September 18th 2006, 10:49 am
By: News On 6

Native Americans across Oklahoma are facing a healthcare crisis. With the shortest life expectancy of any ethnic group in the country, activists say improving Indian health care is a must.

A bill to do just that has been stalled in Congress for years. Now it's up for consideration once again. News on 6 reporter Heather Lewin has more on how the decision could affect Tulsa.

It's a promise that dates back generations. Carmelita Skeeter with the Indian Health Care Resource Center in Tulsa: "The tribes gave their land up, and the government said we will provide you education, we will provide you healthcare." But in many ways it's been a struggle ever since. With higher rates of alcoholism, depression and chronic illnesses like diabetes, activists say most Native Americans receive a level of health care below the average US citizen. "We still have a long way to go, but we have made some steps forward, particularly in prenatal care."

Skeeter and others say passing a new version of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act is crucial. But every year in Congress, it's passed over. "It has to go through 5 committees before it can be presented on the floor."

Supporters of the bill say the act would modernize the IHS sytem and better handle preventable diseases that often go untreated. While individual tribes cover much of the cost of health care in rural areas, urban clinics are funded by federal dollars. And in cities, the need is greater. The government's decision affects more than just people covered by Indian Health Care.

If this program loses its funding, hundreds of patients from the Indian Health Care Resource Center will end up in Tulsa's emergency rooms. "70 percent of our patient load have no means, they have no health insurance so they would not be able to receive services."

Skeeter's asking voters to write letters urging members of Congress to pass the healthcare improvement legislation.