September 29, 2021

Cortez Masto, Murkowski Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Address Shortage of Health Care Providers in Native American Communities

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to help the Indian Health Services (IHS) recruit and hire more health care professionals by providing medical, nursing, and other students with fully tax-exempt scholarships and loan repayment programs. IHS has a 25% vacancy rate for health care providers and currently needs more than 1,300 positions filled, which Cortez Masto’s legislation could help address.

In order to attract new, talented health professionals, Congress has already made the majority of federal health scholarship and repayment programs permanently tax exempt, including those at the Department of Defense and the National Health Service Corps. Through the IHS Health Professions Tax Fairness Act, Cortez Masto is working to ensure IHS programs are treated fairly and receive that same tax exemption.

“As Indian Country deals with dire doctor and nurse shortages, expanding the IHS’s capacity to provide financial aid to medical students and new health workers is just common sense,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “This legislation will allow IHS facilities in Nevada to recruit and hire more doctors, nurses, and other clinicians to help save lives and keep Native American communities healthy.”

“High vacancy rates for doctors, nurses, and other health care providers in our Native communities continues to be a hindrance in providing adequate care. Unfortunately, the existing inequities Native communities face were compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. These staffing shortages emphasize just how much additional resources are needed to assist with the financial burdens that our health care workers are experiencing. I am proud to reintroduce the Indian Health Service Health Professions Tax Fairness Act with Senator Cortez Masto, to help the agency recruit and retain more healthcare providers,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski.

The Government Accountability Office has reported that the Indian health Service (IHS) has a 25% vacancy rate for health care providers and is in need of over 1,300 clinical providers for doctors, nurses, and other clinical staff. By making IHS scholarships and loan repayment programs permanently tax exempt, the IHS can fund more scholarships and provide financial support for Native students enrolled in health profession programs in exchange for those students’ agreement to work at the Service upon graduation.

Senator Cortez Masto has led efforts to provide Native American communities across Nevada with access to quality health care. She helped secure over $1 billion in coronavirus relief funding for the Indian Health Service to combat the pandemic and $125 million in additional funding for tribes and urban Indian health organizations within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to address the mental health needs of Native communities. She has also cosponsored legislation to help address health disparities for Native Americans in urban areas and expand access to physician training to address the state-wide doctor shortage.