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The U.S. Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee endorsed major improvements in health care for Native Americans yesterday, approving S.1790, the Indian Health Care Improvement Reauthorization and Extension Act.

Indianz.com emphasized that the bill “permanently reauthorizes all current Indian health programs, eliminating the need for tribes to go to Congress in the future.” The Indian Health Care Act was last authorized in 2001, and has required annual re-approvals ever since.

Ledyard King of the Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, SD) writes that “the lack of a law has hampered efforts to modernize some of (the Indian Health Service) practices, such as the expansion of computerized tele-medicine.” King adds that poor funding has been the biggest impediment to improving medical care in Indian Country: “Health care expenditures nationally are $6,538 per capita compared with $2,349 for users of the IHS.”

The bill would give Indians more access to federal health programs like Medicare. “It also would allow the Indian Health Service to provide more long-term care options, including nursing homes; additional cancer screening for women; and increased mental health treatment.”

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