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NV Tribe Looking for Some “Urgent Care” from Congress on Health Bill

November 26, 2007

Las Vegas, NV – After being passed over in 2006, a Nevada tribe hopes Congress will vote to pass legislation by year's end that would be the first major update in health care delivery for Native Americans in many years.

Sen. Harry Reid has pledged to bring the "Indian Health Care Improvement Act" to the floor this session, and the Reno Sparks Indian Colony says the action is urgently needed. The tribe's chairman, Arlan Melendez, says it has been 15 years since the Native American health care system was reauthorized, and now is the time for Congress to make good on a promise made long ago.

"These are the first Americans, and the United States has a trust obligation. It starts at home. They should honor those commitments here. Otherwise, how would anybody else worldwide trust them?"

Melendez says the legislation, H.R. 1328 in the House and S. 1200 in the Senate, would allow tribes broader participation in programs such as Medicaid. Currently, the tribe must draw from its general fund to supplement health services for tribal members.

Melendez says some senators seem to be forgetting that Congress signed a treaty with Native Americans, and that a long-standing obligation exists when it comes to making room for funding in the budget.

"They don't look at it as an obligation that they have to Indian Tribes based on treaties, they just look at it as spending in general, along with every other appropriation. So that's a challenge we have with some of these senators who are watchdogs on spending."

One controversial element of the measure that remains undecided concerns how much money should go to so-called "urban Indians" who require services but do not live on reservations. About 8,000 urban Indians live in the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area.

Michael Clifford/Eric Mack, Public News Service - NV