Yvette Roubideaux: Diabetes program works for Indian Country

Yvette Roubideaux at the White House Tribal Nations Conference in December 2014. Photo from IHS

Time to Reauthorize the Successful Special Diabetes Program for Indians
By Yvette Roubideaux

It is spring again, and the hopes for better weather are accompanied by the worries and concerns of many American Indian and Alaska Native communities working hard to prevent and treat diabetes and its complications.

I am grateful to the House of Representatives for recently including a two-year reauthorization of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians in the bill passed by the House to address a permanent fix for physician Medicare payment rates. I am hopeful that when the Senate returns, it will make sure that this successful initiative can continue to positively impact the lives of so many individuals with or at risk for diabetes.

With annual funding now at $150 million, the Special Diabetes Program for Indians needs to be reauthorized by September 30, 2015.

This can’t wait. Our First American populations suffer higher rates of diabetes than the U.S. population as a whole.

The Special Diabetes Program for Indians has been successful because it is and has been community driven from the start. Congress initially authorized the program in 1997 and the Indian Health Service (IHS) consulted with Tribes on the program’s focus and how to distribute funding. Each year, funding is distributed to more than 400 IHS, Tribal and urban Indian health projects for innovative and culturally appropriate diabetes prevention and treatment services.

This investment is changing the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives for the better and giving Tribal communities hope for a healthier future. The program has been increasing access to diabetes prevention and treatment services, improving the quality of care for patients, and helping to decrease blood glucose levels.

IHS data also shows a slowing in the rate of increase in diabetes prevalence in American Indian and Alaska Native adults, and there is almost no increase in diabetes prevalence in American Indian and Alaska Native youth.

Each local program can tell stories about patients who have received better care, made healthier choices, and were able to reduce the amount of – or cease completely – medications with better control of their diabetes.

The Special Diabetes Program for Indians funding is having a significant impact on whole communities, and helping them to be healthier as well, by promoting physical activity and healthier food choices and opening more wellness centers and traditional gardens.

There is still much more to do to reduce the rate of diabetes in Indian Country. I am hopeful that Congress will reauthorize the Special Diabetes Program for Indians so we can continue to fight this devastating epidemic among American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Yvette Roubideaux, M.D., M.P.H., Senior Advisor to the Secretary for American Indians and Alaska Natives, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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