India’s first American Indian health care facility was established in 1839 by an Indian agent, but it wasn’t until 1955 that the Indian Health Service (IHS), a federal agency responsible for providing and improving access to healthcare for American Indians and Alaska Native people, was created. Today, the Indian Health Service is part of the Indian Health Services branch of the Department of Health and Human Services.
IHS’ mission is to raise health standards for all Indians in America by providing community-based care that supports self-determination. It’s also designed to empower Indian patients with better access to healthcare professionals who are trained to understand their unique needs. Unlike Indian tribes, IHS provides healthcare services directly only on Indian reservations, while clinics provide services off reservations. The IHS system today consists of over 600 facilities located throughout the Indian country, including tribal facilities operated under contract with the IHS or tribally designated agencies.
The Indian Self Determination Act (ISDA)
Allows tribes to contract out Indian health care programs with the federal government. Indian Health Service employees are Indian themselves, but they need to have their medical staff meet certain qualifications. Indian Health Services is a group of clinics that is funded by the Indian Health Service which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. They provide healthcare for American Indians and Alaska Natives around the country on Indian reservations. They also offer some free prevention services like immunizations, family planning, checkups, etc.
To become an IHS patient or enrollee you must be a member of one of the federally recognized Indian tribes in America which have signed treaties with your tribe (or your parent’s tribe). Some tribes may require proof of enrollment before allowing access to Indian health facilities on their lands. Indian Health Services have a special Indian Health Card that is issued to enrolled tribal members that provide free health care. Children of Indian parents can be eligible for Indian Health Services based on their parent’s status, so it is important to check the rules in your specific tribe. In order to qualify for Indian healthcare, one must have been born on or have at least one-fourth of Indian ancestry from an Indian reservation and belong to a tribe recognized by the federal government (this includes Alaska Natives). The IHS doesn’t provide emergency services; however, they may refer you elsewhere for urgent care if necessary.
When visiting an Indian clinic you will need proof of American Indian heritage (usually because you are applying for assistance like food stamps), a photo ID, Indian Health Card, tribal treaty card or Indian census number (from Bureau of Indian Affairs), verification of birth certificate (including parents’ names), and proof of residency on an Indian reservation. Depending on your eligibility for Indian health care you may be required to pay a small fee for services provided. Emergency Indian Health Service coverage is available if you need immediate medical attention; however, there are no Indian hospitals so this will often require an emergency room visit at some other public facility.
Indian Health Services
Do not cover every type of healthcare but provides many preventative services like immunizations, cancer screenings, diabetes management, wellness checks, etc. Indian clinics also support self-determination by allowing patients to choose their own healthcare providers instead of forcing them through referral processes which can waste time and delay care. Indian health services can also direct patients to Indian dental, mental health, and substance abuse programs as needed. Indian Health Services does not cover all Indian tribes, so it is important to check the Indian Health Service coverage map to see if you qualify for Indian healthcare benefits or insurance plans.
Indian Health Services provide Indian Americans with healthcare on Indian reservations. Indian health services can also direct patients to Indian dental, mental health, and substance abuse programs as needed. Indian Health Services does not cover all Indian tribes, so it is important to check the Indian Health Service coverage map to see if you qualify for Indian healthcare benefits or insurance plans.