Native Behavioral Health Access Improvement Act

STAFF REPORT

NORTH DAKOTA  – U.S. Senators Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced the Native Behavioral Health Access Improvement Act, a bipartisan, bicameral bill to help Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities, tribal health programs, and urban Indian health organizations address mental and behavioral health needs in their communities.

“Tribes have long worked to address mental and behavioral health issues in Native American communities, yet a majority of Indian Health Service facilities do not provide sufficient mental health services,” said Senator Cramer. “Our bipartisan legislation would address this disparity by creating a program to give communities flexible funds so they can provide these important services in a tailored, effective way.”

“Before the pandemic, American Indians and Alaska Native communities were already disproportionately impacted by mental and behavioral health challenges due to historical trauma, discrimination, decades of underinvestment in Indian Health Service and more,” said Senator Smith. “COVID-19 has only exacerbated this problem. We need to make sure all Native communities, in Tribal and urban areas, have adequate resources to provide culturally-appropriate prevention, treatment and recovery care. I want anyone suffering from a mental or behavioral health issue to know they are not alone. We can all help break the stigma by talking about it, and then we have to go to work to get people the services they need.”

Currently, only 39 percent of IHS facilities provide 24-hour mental health crisis intervention services, and 10 percent of IHS facilities do not provide any crisis intervention services at all. A survey conducted by IHS found tribes rated the expansion of inpatient and outpatient mental health and substance abuse facilities as their number one priority. The Native Behavioral Health Access Improvement Act would address this problem by creating a Special Behavioral Health Program within IHS to provide flexible funds that can be used to develop culturally-appropriate methods and solutions aimed at prevention, treatment, and recovery.

Senators Cramer and Smith are joined on this bill by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D-CA) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. The bill is also endorsed by the National Indian Health Board, National Council of Urban Indian Health, National Congress of American Indians, and United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc.

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