BY CHRIS CASTEEL Modified: October 21, 2009 at 4:21 am •  Published: October 21, 2009
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WASHINGTON — Acknowledging that improvements in American Indian health care are long overdue, a New Jersey congressman said Tuesday that the plan is to make them part of the broader health legislation moving through Congress.

Indian groups and lawmakers have been trying to renew the law that governs health care in Indian country, but the process has always broken down.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said during a Capitol Hill hearing that he wants to include Indian Health Service improvements in the health care bill moving toward a House vote, rather than waiting for Congress to act on separate legislation.

The long delay in renewing the law hasn’t kept the Indian Health Service from operating — and renewing it doesn’t mean Americans Indians will instantly get better care — but the inaction has been frustrating to tribes and American Indian health care experts.

Chickasaw Nation Lt. Gov. Jefferson Keel, president-elect of the National Congress of American Indians, said at the hearing Indians have been working for 10 years to renew the law with changes that would modernize treatment for patients.

The Indian Health Service is funded through the Department of Health and Human Services and is charged with providing care to Americans Indians.