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Washington Indian Health Improvement Act to Change the Way Healthcare Funds Are Invested

Governor Jay Inslee has signed the Washington Indian Health Improvement Act, a bill that changes the way healthcare funds are invested in Tribal and urban Indian health organizations.

According to a press release from the American Indian Health Commission, the bill will also help the state of Washington, Tribes and Urban Indian Health Programs increase access to care, strengthen continuity of care, improve population health, and strengthen culturally effective practices.

The bill also permanently authorizes the Governor’s Indian Health Advisory Council and mandates the first Indian Health Improvement Advisory Plan. The Governor’s Indian Health Advisory Council consists of representatives from all 29 federally recognized Tribes in Washington, CEOs of two Urban Indian Health Programs, four legislative members representing the majority and minority caucuses in the House and Senate, and one member representing the Governor’s Office.

“The level of trust and participation by all parties involved brings a lot of hope for the future health of Native communities in Washington,” said Vicki Lowe, executive director of the American Indian Health Commission (AIHC). “We are providing a model that we hope to see replicated throughout the country.”

AIHC took a lead role in the development and legislative advocacy for the bill. AIHC is a Tribally driven nonprofit organization dedicated to improving health outcomes for American Indians and Alaska Natives through state level health policy, advocacy, and programs. It consists of Tribal and urban Indian representatives who work on behalf of the 29 federally recognized Indian Tribes and two Urban Indian Health Programs in the state.

The federal government has a fiduciary obligation to provide healthcare to American Indians and Alaska Natives. The traditional Medicaid program is jointly funded by states and the federal government, and the federal matching percentage varies by state. The federal government incentivized states by covering 100 percent of Medicaid costs for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

This legislation establishes a Tribal reinvestment account that leverages the state costs savings and reinvests those dollars into the Indian healthcare system.  

“We are grateful to Tribal leadership in Washington who stood with Urban Indian Health Programs like Seattle Indian Health Board throughout this legislative process,” said Aren Sparck, Government Affairs Officer for Seattle Indian Health Board and executive member of AIHC. “If it wasn’t for the collaborative efforts by all involved, especially the support of Jessie Dean from Washington State Health Care Authority, this one-of-a-kind legislation would not have been possible.”

The Washington Indian Health Improvement Act was introduced in the 2019 legislative session by Senator John McCoy (D-38) and Representative Steve Tharinger (D-24). The bill was approved unanimously by the Washington State legislature in April.

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