Testimony presented to the House appropriation Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies on March 19th by Rex Lee Jim serving as the Navajo Area Representative to the National Indian Health Board (NHIB) and Vice President for the Navajo Nation, discussed critical healthcare needs that exist for American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN).
Today, there are significant health disparities within AI/AN communities as compared to rates in the general U.S. population. The fact is that tuberculosis rates are 8.5 times higher, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis is 4.2 times higher, diabetes, 2.9 times higher, unintentional injuries 2.5 times higher, and homicide 2.0 higher.
In response to the higher rates for diabetes, Congress established the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI) which has been reauthorized at the current funding level of $150 million annually. Today SDPI provides grant funding to 404 diabetes treatment and prevention programs in 35 states which has led to significant advances in diabetes education, prevention, and treatment. SDPI is making a real difference in the lives of people who must manage diabetes on a daily basis.
As Rex Lee Jim explained, specific health data is critically needed on AI/ANs in order to enhance health services. Tribes need accurate, timely, and accessible statistical data to appropriately determine AI/AN healthcare needs. There are unique challenges in collecting AI/AN data due to geographic dispersion, racial misclassification, utilizing survey methods, and an inadequate collection of subgroup information.
He is calling for federal leadership and more resources to provide inclusive data. The Indian Health Care Improvement Act enables the Tribal Epi-Centers, and Tribes to have access to the data kept by the states regarding the health of AI/ANs. However, despite the right to the data available from the states, acquiring the data from the states remains costly and challenging.
There are other sources besides obtaining data from the states since the Indian Health Service collects data through their Resource and Patient Management System on AI/AN health status and progress. Also, the EMRs existing throughout Indian Country also provide health and medical data about AI/ANs.
Go to www.nihb.org/docs/03212013/nihb_final_testimony.pdf to view the testimony.