Tester, Moran Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Increase Native American Veterans’ Access to VA Health Care, Eliminate Copays

Senators’ Native American Veteran Parity in Access to Care Today Act eliminates copays for Native vets seeking care at VA

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)—Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee—are introducing the Native American Veteran Parity in Access to Care Today (PACT) Act, bipartisan legislation eliminating copayments for Native American veterans accessing Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care. This legislation brings parity between Native American veterans receiving services at VA and Native Americans who receive services through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Indian Health Service (IHS).

Native Americans receiving care at IHS are not subject to health care copayments in accordance with United States trust and treaty obligations. Native American veterans, however, are required to pay copayments when receiving services at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), creating a disparity for those who receive health care at VA rather than IHS and causing a potential barrier to access to care. The Senators’ bipartisan bill would require VA to treat hospital care and medical services at VHA similarly to health care provided at IHS, eliminating copayments for Native American veterans.

“Native Americans serve our nation at the highest rates, and we have a responsibility to ensure they have access to benefits and care they’ve earned when they return home from service,” said Ranking Member Tester. “The fact is that the federal government is tasked with providing health care to all Native American veterans free of charge—and the buck stops with VA. Our bipartisan bill requires VA to bring its copay requirements in line with the Indian Health Service, eliminating out-of-pocket costs for our nation’s Native veterans.”

“Our nation is proud of the 21,000 Native Americans who have served our country, and it is our responsibility to make certain the care they are provided at the Department of Veterans Affairs is in line with current federal practice,” said Chairman Moran. “This legislation would eliminate the VA copay for Native American veterans to help them have greater access to the care and resources they have earned.”

"The federal government's responsibility to provide quality healthcare to American Indian and Alaska Native veterans comes both from their service to this country and the federal government's treaty and trust obligations to American Indian and Alaska Native people. Currently, American Indian and Alaska Native veterans are required to pay a copayment before receiving services at the Veterans Health Administration, representing a significant barrier to care," said Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians. "The Native American Veteran Parity in Access to Care Today Act improves accessibility to Veterans Health Administration services by eliminating copayments for our American Indian and Alaska Native veterans."

“That National Indian Health Board is committed to ensuring the highest health status and outcomes for American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans, and the Native American Veteran Parity in Access to Care Today (PACT) Act would allow Native Veterans to receive care from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) without a copayment,” said Stacy A. Bohlen, CEO of the National Indian Health Board. “The PACT Act moves us closer to fulfillment of the federal government’s dual responsibility to Native Veterans. NIHB commends Senator Tester and Senator Moran for leading this bill, and stands ready to work with Congress in a bipartisan manner to enact legislation that strengthens the government-to-government relationship, improves coordinated care between the Indian Health Service and VHA, and ultimately elevates healthcare access for all Native veterans across Indian Country.”

As a senior member and former Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Tester joined his colleagues yesterday in introducing a Congressional resolution recognizing November 2020 as “National Native American Heritage Month” and the Friday after Thanksgiving as “Native American Heritage Day,” highlighting the powerful contributions of Native Americans, including Native veterans, to the United States.

Full text of the Senators’ bill is available HERE.