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NIHB Continues to Educate Lawmakers, Requests Support from Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Coronavirus Tribal Health Priorities 
WASHINGTON, DC—July 1, 2020—Today, National Indian Health Board (NIHB) Secretary Lisa Elgin from the Manchester-Pt. Arena Band of Pomo Indians in California testified virtually before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) during a hearing to “Evaluate the Response and Mitigation to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Native Communities.” Secretary Elgin outlined top Tribal health and public health priorities in response to COVID-19 – some of which fall squarely under the Committee’s jurisdiction, and others that rely on individual members to work with their colleagues serving on other committees. 
“The National Indian Health Board continues to educate lawmakers on the devasting impacts of COVID-19 in Tribal communities. We urge increases to relief funding to address pressing Tribal health and public health priorities like water and sanitation, telehealth, electronic health records and reauthorization of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians,” said NIHB Secretary Elgin, who also serves as the chairperson for the California Rural Indian Health Board. “NIHB calls on our allies serving on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to listen to the stories of Tribal members hauling water for miles and miles just to wash their hands or healthcare workers reusing personal protective equipment. We ask them to take action and encourage their fellow lawmakers to take action too. The federal government has treaty and trust obligations to fully fund healthcare for all Tribal Nations, and the COVID-19 pandemic makes this duty all the more imperative.” 
Since the onset of Coronavirus in the United States, NIHB has virtually testified three times and submitted 17 written testimonies to various Senate and House committees. All testimonies highlighted existing capacity and resource shortages across the Indian health system. Those shortages resulted in many Tribes being ill-equipped to prepare for, prevent and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a data visualization of COVID-19 cases created by the American Indian Studies Center at the University of California Los Angeles, it was found that if Tribes were states, the top five infection rates nationwide would all be Tribal Nations.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the vast disparities in healthcare access, quality and availability that exist within the nation’s health system. Despite alarming gaps nationwide in population-specific COVID-19 health disparities data, available information clearly demonstrates that Tribal communities are facing the brunt of this public health crisis. Unfortunately, because of high rates of misclassification and undersampling of American Indian and Alaska Native populations in federal, state and local public health disease surveillance systems, available data likely significantly underrepresents the scope of the impact in Indian Country. Misclassification of American Indians and Alaska Natives on disease surveillance systems is not unique to COVID-19,” stated in Secretary Elgin's written testimony. 
In addition to urging the SCIA members to support all Tribally-specific funding and legislative provisions outlined in the House-passed HEROES Act, NIHB also asked the Committee to support nine Tribal health and public health priorities that would provide relief and flexibilities for Tribes to adequately respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  1. Ensure timely passage and meaningful increases to the overall Indian Health Service (IHS) budget for Fiscal Year 2021 in line with the Tribal Budget Formulation Workgroup recommendations.
  2. Pass the bipartisan S. 3937 – Special Diabetes Program for Indians Reauthorization Act of 2019 – with slight changes to the new “Delivery of Funds” language to ensure Tribes and Tribal organizations are able to receive awards through self-determination and self-governance contracts and compacts.
  3. Provide a minimum of $1 billion for water and sanitation development across IHS and Tribal facilities.
  4. Provide meaningful increases to the IHS budget for telehealth, electronic health records and health information technology infrastructure development.
  5. Eliminate the sunset provisions under Section 30106 of the HEROES Act to remove the "four walls" Medicaid billing restriction and permanently extend 100% FMAP to urban Indian organizations.
  6. Authorize Indian Health Care Providers to receive Medicaid reimbursement for all medical services delivered to Medicaid-eligible American Indians and Alaska Natives authorized under the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
  7. Enact certain sections of the bipartisan CONNECT to Health Act that would expand telehealth capacity and access in Indian Country by permanently extending waivers under Medicare for use of telehealth.
  8. Include pharmacists, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, Licensed Professional Counselors as eligible providers under Medicare for reimbursement to Indian Health Care Providers.
  9. Permanently extend waivers under Medicare for expanded use of telehealth.
Find the full NIHB testimony at For more information or questions about Native Veterans healthcare, please contact Shervin Aazami at
National Indian Health Board Mission Statement

Established by the Tribes to advocate as the united voice of federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes, NIHB seeks to reinforce Tribal sovereignty, strengthen Tribal health systems, secure resources, and build capacity to achieve the highest level of health and well-being for our People.
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