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High Rates of Uninsured Hit Nevada Tribe Hard

July 3, 2008

Las Vegas, NV – The Southwest leads the country when it comes to numbers of the uninsured, with one adult in three in that category, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control. But it's not just individuals and families feeling the pain, but also the hospitals that serve them.

In Nevada, the Reno Sparks Indian Colony has just built a new $16 million full-service health clinic, but the tribal chairman, Arlan Melendez, says they don't have enough money for doctors because the Indian Health Service hasn't delivered needed funding increases. Melendez says if more Native Americans in the Reno area had health insurance, it would make a major difference.

"If people have insurance, it really helps us build up that third-party billing, generating an income pool to hire more doctors and nurses and staff, since there are really no increases coming from the Indian Health Service. "

The Indian Health Service says Congressional appropriations haven't kept pace with inflation over the past five years, leaving the agency hard-pressed to meet the health needs of all tribes.

Melendez says studies show Native Americans live five years less on average than most U.S. citizens but, he notes they get a lot less federal money for health care. He says that problem needs to be addressed.

"First the disparity is that we have a greater need as Native Americans, then we’re at the end of the totem pole when it comes to appropriations. You know federal prisoners and everybody else gets a lot more money than we do. "

Last month, the Senate approved its version of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, and Melendez says that when lawmakers return from their Fourth of July recess, his tribe will be joining others in pushing for passage of the measure in the House.

More information is available online at www.cdc.gov/nchs


Michael Clifford/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - NV