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ADA thanks Rep. Noem for bill to expand tribal health care

June 16, 2016

By Jennifer Garvin

Washington — A new bill seeking to expand provider access to individuals living on Indian Reservations has the support of the ADA.

The Helping Ensure Accountability, Leadership, and Trust in Tribal Healthcare Act, introduced June 8 by Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., would improve access to tribal health care by "providing for systemic Indian Health Service workforce and funding reforms."

"In addition to greater community based prevention efforts, the ADA recognizes that a key factor for reducing oral disease is greater access to care by increasing the number of dentists in the program," wrote Dr. Carol Gomez Summerhays, ADA President, in a June 16 letter to Rep. Noem. "Dentists know from working with the tribes that the actual need for dentists is higher than the IHS-advertised vacancy rates. This legislation takes steps in the right direction to encourage providers to serve in Native American communities."

Dr. Summerhays thanked Rep. Noem for the legislation, which calls for excluding the Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program from gross income and streamlining the medical volunteer credentialing process.

By amending the tax code to provide dentists and hygienists who receive student loan repayments from IHS the "same tax free status enjoyed by those who receive National Health Service Corps loan repayments," section 201 of the bill would save IHS $5.71 million, allowing it to fund an additional 115 awards. Currently, the agency uses some 25 percent of its Health Professions' account for taxes.

"This loan repayment program has proven to be one of the IHS' best recruitment and retention tools to ensure an adequate health workforce to serve in the many remote IHS locations," Dr. Summerhays said.

Dr. Summerhays also noted that in 2014, the IHS had 1,296 requests for loan repayment and awarded 379 new contracts and 331 contract extensions but because of a lack of funds, 586 requests were denied.

"Changing the tax status of the IHS loans to make them tax-free would enable [IHS] to fill two-thirds or more of the loan repayment requests."

Section 206 of the bill streamlines the credentialing process for dentists and helps reduce "paperwork barriers" for volunteers.

"Those providers are often dissuaded from doing so by the complicated and burdensome paperwork requirements necessary to receive proper credentialing," Dr. Summerhays said. "Section 206 allows for public and private sector associations to develop a centralized system that will reduce the barrier to entry."