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Tribal Leaders, Health Advocates Press Federal Agencies on Funding, Programs to Aid COVID-19 Response in Indian Country 
WASHINGTON, DC—October 13, 2020—Today, the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) hosted two federal agency Tribal listening sessions and one Tribal consultation during the pre-conference day of this year’s NIHB’s virtual National Tribal Health Conference. NIHB board members led three sessions with the Indian Health Service (IHS), Health Services and Resources Administration (HRSA) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that focused on COVID-19 funding, telehealth flexibilities and provider relief funds, among other topics.

“The annual NIHB conference is an opportunity for Tribal leaders and health advocates to interact with federal agency representatives and even though we’re meeting on a virtual platform this year, Tribal health issues are still at the forefront and we still expect our federal partners to address our issues and answer our questions,” said NIHB Acting Chairman William “Bill” Smith who is from the Valdez Native Tribe of Alaska. “Federal, state and Tribal relations and meaningful consultations are essential when making decisions that impact Tribal communities, our children and elders especially during this time of uncertainty.”
Several IHS officials were present for the IHS listening session to address a number of issues, including IHS funding through appropriations and COVID-19 relief funds, the reauthorization of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI) and COVID-19 vaccine planning.

“We appreciate this opportunity to participate in today’s listening session,” said Rear Adm. Chris Buchanan, Deputy Director, Indian Health Service. “These sessions are especially important because there are a number of health issues facing our Tribal and urban communities, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The feedback we hear today is important as we make decisions that impact our communities and fulfill our mission to raise the physical, mental, social and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level.”

During the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) consultation session, HRSA Acting Administrator Tom Engels and Operations Director of Policy and Shortage Designation Melissa Ryan took questions from Tribal leaders on the Provider Relief Funds, distribution of HRSA grants and the agency’s Rural Action Plan. There was concern over the announcement from drug manufacturers that they will no longer make discounted drugs available through the 340B program, which will limit access to life-saving medications for Tribal Nations and the most vulnerable populations. HRSA officials could not comment in depth about the 340B program specifics due to ongoing litigation.

In the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) listening session, Tribal representatives focused on telehealth and Medicare and Medicaid flexibilities which have been incredibly vital for IHS and Tribal health facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tribes expressed that they want to see the flexibilities made permanent and to expand telehealth to include audio only as many Tribal Nations are largely rural and lack access to high speed internet and cannot access two-way real time audio and video communication. Tribal advocates said that the failure to take the broadband issue into account will result in disrupted medical services to Tribal citizens, elders and those with underlying health conditions.   

NIHB’s annual National Tribal Health Conference officially starts tomorrow, October 14 with an opening plenary session featuring a Tribal keynote speech from Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, a Tribal leaders panel addressing the impacts of COVID-19, a federal keynote address from Health and Human Services (HHS) Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan, an Operation Warp Speed discussion session and presentations on the IHS and Veteran Affairs coordinated COVID-19 response.

See the full conference agenda at:

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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.