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Bipartisan Bill Tears Down Health Data Barrier for Native Americans

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Washington, August 7, 2020 | comments

Energy and Commerce Committee members Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT), Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Republican Leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), and Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D-CA) released the following statement on H.R. 7948, the Tribal Health Data Improvement Act of 2020, a bill that would reaffirm that Tribal public health authorities are entitled to access public health data.

“Native American Tribes face structural challenges accessing federal public health data that state and local governments can access—data they are entitled to by law. This needs to change. Our bipartisan bill tears down this information barrier so Tribal communities can utilize federal data to help guide their public health decision-making, something that is critically important during the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that Native Americans are being impacted by this pandemic disproportionately. As we continue our work to reduce disparities in health outcomes, access to public health data will help close the gap,” said Gianforte, Rodgers, Mullin, Luján, O’Halleran and Ruiz.

The National Indian Health Board CEO, Stacy A. Bohlen, expressed support for this bill.

“The National Indian Health Board strongly supports the Tribal Health Data Improvement Act. Tribal Nations, as sovereign governments, are inherent public health authorities providing vital public health programs and services to their citizens and communities. By statute, Tribal Epidemiology Centers (TECs) are also public health authorities, and play a critical role in assisting Tribal governments and Tribal organizations in public health activities. Yet for years, both Tribes and TECs have faced immense challenges in accessing federal and state health data systems necessary to engage in foundational public health work. NIHB applauds Representatives Gianforte and Luján for leading the Tribal Health Data Improvement Act. This bill will help ensure Tribes and TECs have direct access to federal healthcare and public health surveillance systems, and require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to work directly with Tribes to address widespread misclassification and undersampling of American Indians and Alaska Natives on birth and death records, and in public health surveillance systems,” said Bohlen.

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