Governor’s Indian Health Council shines light on health disparities and historical trauma

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

This week Governor Inslee is signing into law Senate Bill 5415, the Washington Indian Health Improvement Act.

Governor Inslee signing Washington State Tribal Health Bill

Governor Inslee signs into law the Washington Indian Health Improvement Act.

The bill enacts recommendations from the Governor’s Indian Health Council.

Created by the Legislature in 2018, the council brings together representatives from tribes, urban Indian health programs, state agencies, the Governor’s office, and legislators to address health issues affecting American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs).

“This may be the first committee to bring together executive and legislative branches with urban Indian health programs and tribes,” said Jessie Dean, Health Care Authority Tribal Affairs Administrator. “Legislative perspectives on bill writing and enactment — as well as hot topics — have been invaluable.”

Stephen Kutz also emphasized the importance of having many stakeholders at the table.

“This is a unique partnership that exists nowhere else in the country and shows Washington State’s commitment to addressing the health care access and disparities issues of our American Indian and Alaska Native citizens,” said Kutz, an elected Cowlitz Tribal Councilmember who also serves as Executive Director of Health and Human Services of the Cowlitz Tribe and Chair of the American Indian Health Commission for Washington State.

In addition to making recommendations to the Legislature, the council’s December 2018 legislative report also addressed the complex health challenges American Indians and Alaska Natives face in light of historical trauma and severe federal underfunding of health care.

For example, AI/ANs have a 67 percent greater risk of premature death than do non-Hispanic whites. Also, the completed suicide rate for AI/ANs is much higher than for any other race.

These disparities are a direct result of more than a century of state and federal policies that damaged tribal economies, social structures, and cultural protective factors.

“To my knowledge, this is the first legislative report that includes a substantial discussion of American Indian and Alaska Natives’ health disparities and the relationship with historical trauma,” Dean said.

About Senate Bill 5415

The Washington Indian Health Improvement Act:

  • Creates the Governor’s Indian Health Advisory Council, which includes tribes, urban Indian health programs, legislators, and the governor’s office as voting members. Nonvoting members include state agencies, Indian health service areas, and the American Indian Health Commission for Washington State.
  • Directs the advisory council to adopt an Indian health improvement advisory plan. The plan will assess Indian health care in our state and make recommendations about how to increase culturally-appropriate health care services in tribal communities.
  • Establishes the Indian Health Improvement Reinvestment Account, which will be funded with savings to the state general fund from federal guidance enabling the state to receive 100 percent federal match for services provided through Indian Health Service or tribes to AI/AN Medicaid enrollees.

Learn more about the Governor’s Indian Health Council.