Sen. Tester: A victory on Indian health reauthorization

The following is the opinion of Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), a co-sponsor of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

We made history last week. And we couldn’t have done it without the hard work of thousands of American Indians who live here in Montana

The Senate overwhelmingly passed the long-overdue Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA).

I cosponsored this historic legislation because I know just how critical the health care situation is in Indian Country. Over the past year I visited all corners of Montana and visited with every tribe. All of them told me access to quality health care is the number one issue facing Indian Country today.

When Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan and I hosted a field hearing on how to improve Indian health care last August in Crow Agency, one thing became clear from all of Indian Country: there is a disturbing difference between the state of health care in Indian County and the health care available to most other Montanans. So when Senator Dorgan and I returned to Washington, we fought even harder to make sure the Senate would vote on the IHCIA. The measure hadn’t been reauthorized since 2000.

This reauthorization contains a lot of good stuff. It authorizes programs to address mental and behavioral health care. It promotes disease prevention, substance abuse and addiction treatment. And it promotes better physical health. In addition, the legislation now allows those who are eligible for Medicare and Medicaid to fully participate in the programs.

I also sponsored an amendment that passed unanimously encouraging law enforcement agencies at federal, state, and local levels to work closely with tribal law enforcement agencies to combat meth in Indian Country.

As a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I hear heartbreaking stories about the state of Indian health care every week. It is a priority for me, as well as my fellow committee members, to create opportunities for providing better and more accessible health care.

Passing the Indian Health Care Improvement Act was just the first thing we can do to fulfill our commitment to American Indians but we still have work to do. I hope the House works together as the Senate did, and I expect the President to sign this critically important legislation.

Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments:
S.1200 | H.R.1328

White House Document:
Statement of Administration Policy (January 22, 2008)

Relevant Links:
Indian Health Service -
National Indian Health Board -

Related Stories:
Editorial: A big step for improving Indian health (2/29)
Groups praise passage of Indian Health Care Act (2/27)
Senate finally passes IHCIA (2/26)
Senate resumes debate on IHCIA (2/25)
Sen. Dorgan vows approval of Indian Health Care Act (2/25)
Editorial: Pass Indian Health Care Improvement Act (02/19)
Senate to resume debate on IHCIA next week (2/18)
Senate resumes debate on Indian Health Care (2/14)
Letter: Indian health care a treaty obligation (02/06)
Editorial: Struggle continues for Indian health (2/4)
Garcia delivers State of Indian Nations address (2/1)
Editorial: Rebuff Bush's veto threat on IHCIA (1/28)
Editorial: Reponsibility for Indian health care (1/28)
Abourezk: Hope for Indian health care reform (1/25)
Senate vote on IHCIA delayed until next week (1/24)
Day 2 of Senate debate on Indian Health Care (1/23)
Northwest tribes await outcome of IHCIA vote (1/23)
Senate opens long-delayed debate on IHCIA (1/22)
Sen. Coburn won't hold up Indian health bill (1/21)
Abourezk: GOP candidates silent on IHCIA (1/18)
Senate expected to vote on Indian Health Care Act (1/17)
Sen. Dorgan: Indian health care an embarrassment (12/7)
Arizona rebuffed on Indian health care costs (12/4)
House subcommittee approves Indian health care bill (11/08)
IHCIA delayed but could come up next week (10/26)
Long-delayed IHCIA set for vote in Senate (10/22)
Indian health care leaders win prestigious award (10/04)
Indian Country rallies for health care in U.S. Capitol (09/13)