Health | Politics

Congress passes renewal of Indian Country diabetes program






Leaders of the National Indian Health Board met with Yvette Roubideaux of the Department of Health and Human Services, center in grey jacket, to discuss the Special Diabetes Program for Indians. Photo from Facebook

A bill that extends the Special Diabetes Program for Indians for another two years is headed to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The Senate voted 92 to 8 on Wednesday to pass H.R.2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act. The House took action last month so all that's needed for the extension to become law is Obama's signature.

"As a doctor, I am glad to see the Senate reauthorize a program that is having a real impact in the fight against diabetes in Indian Country," Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said in a press release. "The SDPI empowers native communities to address the problem of diabetes at the local level through programs for young people and by promoting healthy lifestyles."

The bill provides $150 million in annual funding for the program, which was first authorized by Congress in 1997. The Indian Health Service will award the funds for programs in Indian Country that address diabetes prevention and treatment.

"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," Yvette Roubideaux, the senior advisor for American Indians and Alaska Natives at the Department of Health and Human Services, said last week in an opinion published on Indianz.Com. "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."

Given the program's proven success, lawmakers in the past renewed the program for five-year periods. But that's proven more difficult due to budget pressures, so one-year extensions have been the norm -- including the one that's due to expire this September.

The two-year extension included in H.R.2 represents progress of sorts. The National Indian Health Board continues to press for a longer, or even a permanent, authorization of the program.

"NIHB also maintains the position that multi-year renewal of SDPI would accomplish much more," the organization said on its website. "It would help provide a more stable stream of funding for the program and -- most importantly -- it gives tribal SDPI programs the uninterrupted care their community members deserve."

Last year, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, introduced a bill to authorize the program on a permanent basis. He has not said whether he will try again during the current session of Congress.

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Yvette Roubideaux: Diabetes program works for Indian Country (04/09)