Health | Opinion

Marguerite Salazar: Toward a healthier future in Indian County





November 23 is Native American Heritage Day, and I hope you’ll join me in honoring American Indians and Alaska Natives who are building a stronger and healthier future for Native American communities across the country. In 2009, the President signed legislation recognizing Native American Heritage Day to coincide with November’s National Native American Heritage Month – celebrating the history, culture, and character of American Indian and Alaska Native people.

The Department of Health and Human Services is committed to ensuring the health and well-being of all Americans by working to reduce the health disparities that have burdened American Indians and Alaska Natives. It has been a great honor and a vast learning experience for me to work with tribal entities throughout Region VIII. Tribal leaders have stood firm on their commitment to assist their communities in building stronger nations, whether they be on reservations or in urban settings. The health disparities among Native Americans and Alaska Natives remind me of the same issues I found working within rural communities in Colorado and the San Luis Valley.

But there is good news because within the Affordable Care Act, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act Reauthorization (IHCIA) helps American Indians and Alaska Natives. The Indian Health Care Improvement Act, authorizing health care services for American Indians and Alaska Natives through the Indian Health Service, was made permanent by the Affordable Care Act. It authorizes new programs within the Indian Health Service to meet its mission in raising the health status of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level.

The Affordable Care Act also gives the Indian Health Service authority to establish expanded health care services such as mental and behavioral health treatment and prevention, long-term care services, dialysis services, facilitation of care for Indian veterans, and urban Indian health programs.

Clinician recruitment and retention in tribally operated health programs is also possible with the Affordable Care Act. This section of the law exempts a health care professional employed by a tribally operated health program from State licensing requirements if the professional is licensed in any State, as is the case with IHS health care professionals. It also encourages health professionals to join or continue in an Indian health program and provide services in rural areas.

Working together, we can reduce health disparities with access to quality health care and preventive treatment. I look forward to continuing the productive partnership between the United States Department of Health and Human Services and Native American communities. Please join me in celebrating Native American Heritage Day and bolstering our commitment to ensuring that all American Indian and Alaska Native people have the opportunity for a stronger and healthier future.

Marguerite Salazar is the regional director of Region VIII for the United States Department of Health and Human Services.