U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, applauded the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for passing the Tribal Veterans Health Care Enhancement Act (S. 304), legislation they reintroduced in February that would improve tribal veterans’ access to health care. The committee approved the bill, which now heads to the full Senate for its consideration, by voice vote.
The bill, which was first introduced in the 114th Congress, would allow the Indian Health Service (IHS) to cover copay costs for tribal veterans who are referred by IHS to the Veterans Health Administration (VA) for services that are unavailable at IHS facilities. These referrals often require a copay that is currently the responsibility of the veteran. The bill would also require the IHS and VA, in consultation with Indian tribes, to outline an implementation plan through a memorandum of understanding.
“It’s unfortunate that tribal veterans, who fought bravely for our country, are too frequently caught between the bureaucracies of the IHS and VA,” said Thune. “The Tribal Veterans Health Care Enhancement Act is a common-sense fix that would require these agencies to work more effectively so they can deliver the quality care tribal veterans deserve. Our bill has strong bipartisan support, as evidenced by today’s vote in the Indian Affairs Committee, and I hope my colleagues in the Senate are able to consider it as soon as possible.”
“Tribal veterans shouldn’t have to worry about additional costs when they seek health care services,” said Rounds. “The priority is that they receive quality care in a timely manner. Our legislation will help streamline health care for all Native American veterans to make certain they receive the care they’ve been promised. I’m pleased to see our commonsense legislation taking this important step forward today.”
The Tribal Veterans Health Care Enhancement Act would:
- Allow for IHS to pay for veterans’ copayments for services rendered at a VA facility, pursuant to an IHS referral;
- Require IHS and VA to enter into a memorandum of understanding to provide for such payment; and
- Require a report within 90 days of enactment with respect to:
- The number, by state, of eligible Native American veterans utilizing VA medical facilities;
- The number of referrals, by state, received annually from IHS to the VA from 2011 to 2016; and
- Update on efforts at IHS and VA to streamline care for eligible Native American veterans who receive care at both IHS and VA, including changes required under the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and any barriers to achieve efficiencies.