Affordable healthcare is a major issue for many Native Americans. Barriers to accessing decent healthcare include racial discrimination, poor access to education, unemployment and the loss of traditional lands and food sources.
The impact can be clearly seen in the health disparities between Native Americans and other ethnic groups. High mortality rates are often caused by heart disease and cancer, with ‘accidents’ nearly doubling those of other Americans. Native Americans often choose to receive care from the Indian Health Service (IHS), as racial discrimination remains high at other clinics. However, IHS centres are few and far between, often in areas that are difficult to travel to. Funding for these centres is incredibly low, making it harder to be treated properly for health conditions.
This situation is likely to be worsened if Trump’s proposals come into effect. The Trump administration plans to make employment a requirement for people to access health services. With only 27.2% of Native Americans being ‘civilian-employed’ in 2016, this makes it incredibly difficult for people to access healthcare. Moreover, this move completely disregards the status of federally recognised tribes – as legal sovereign nations who interact with the U.S. as a separate government. A worrying precedent is being set for the future. Thankfully, U.S. senators have condemned these recent efforts, with at least 10 senators voicing their concerns about the plans in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services.
The U.S government has already made efforts to improve access and affordability of health services. The Native American Health Savings Improvement Act was introduced to the House of Representatives in March last year – pushing for Natives to remain eligible for a health savings account regardless of any treatment provided by tribal authorities. Given unemployment rates, being able to afford healthcare is incredibly important. But is improving the affordability of US Government healthcare plans the answer to the Native American health problem?
Meanwhile, local communities and tribal governments are going a long way to help the situation themselves. The ‘Campaign for Indigenous Nutrition’ being run by Seeds of Native Health is educating and raising awareness of how to access nutritional foods, particularly in areas of poverty or geographic isolation. The campaign prepares for the future by funding education and research into nutrition, as well as addressing present needs. On a larger scale, the National Indian Health Board is raising awareness of the impact of environmental damage on health and trying to push for changes before damage happens.
The Annual Native American Healthcare Conference is also enjoying its ninth year in June, where current healthcare issues can be addressed.
The question remains: should the U.S. government take responsibility for promoting and protecting Native American human rights? The move to restrict access to healthcare is a worrying indicator of Trump’s answer. However, incredible progress is still being made in Native communities, where people are working together to build a sustainable future.
About the author
Abi is a history graduate with an interest in Native American welfare and legal issues who is currently working for the NSPCC while fighting child abuse. Her favourite TV show is Westworld and enjoys playing Spikeball.
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