Alton Villegas, a young citizen of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, smiles after presenting testimony at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing on diabetes on March 29, 2017. Photo: SCIA

Lawmakers push to renew Special Diabetes Program for Indians

Lawmakers from both parties are working to reauthorize the Special Diabetes Program for Indians before it expires later this year.

Bills introduced in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate seek to renew the critical program through 2024. The goal is to prevent tribes from having to come back to Congress for short, one- or two-year extensions, which has been the case recently.

More significantly, the Special Diabetes Program for Indians Reauthorization Act increases funding for the first time. In fiscal year 2018, which begins in October, the bill authorizes $150 million in grants. But in every following year, the amount would grow based on inflation levels, accounting for the rising costs of medical care.

“Currently over 50% of adults in the American Indian/Alaska Native communities have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and they are 177% more likely to die from the disease. It is critical that we renew SDPI, because this program has been helping to change these troubling statistics,” Rep. Norma Torres (D-California), who introduced the House version of the reauthorization bill, said on Thursday. “SDPI works, because it provides locally managed, culturally relevant services that have proven to be a strong return on federal investment by decreasing the likelihood of complications from this preventable disease. SDPI is transforming communities and saving lives, and we must continue to provide much-needed resources and support for this proven program.”

According to the Indian Health Service, the grants have helped stem the high rates of diabetes among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Tribes, tribal organizations and urban Indian organizations use the funds to develop specialized programs that fit the needs of their communities.

"The proportion of American Indian adults who have diabetes is no longer increasing, and we are seeing big changes in treatment of complications of diabetes, too," Chris Buchanan, the "acting" director of the IHS, wrote on the agency's blog in March.

But the progress will come to a halt unless Congress takes action. The program otherwise expires on September 30.

“The SDPI is an extremely valuable program that provides Indian Health programs and tribal communities the resources needed to both prevent and treat diabetes,” said Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), a co-sponsor of the House bill. “Diabetes prevention is essential to improving the health and well-being of all Americans, including Alaska Native and American Indians who have the highest prevalence of diabetes among all U.S. ethnic groups.”

The Senate version of the bill is S.747.

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