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Diabetes program for Natives remains in limbo

A federal program designed to assist Native Americans who have diabetes or are at risk of it has been nearing expiration.

The Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI) was set to expire Sept. 30 unless renewed by Congress. It was unknown by press time if Congress would approve the funding and keep the program alive.

The National Indian Health Board and other groups have been trying to keep the pressure on lawmakers for months now, not only to renew the program, but do so at increased funding levels.

The NIHB said SDPI is a successful public health program that supports 301 grantees throughout Indian Country in diabetes prevention and treatment. Since the program’s creation in 1997, supporters say it has helped to reduce the rate of end stage renal disease among Native American and Alaskan Natives by 54 percent.

In addition, a 2019 report from the Department of Health and Human Services said that SDPI saved Medicare up to $520 million over 10 years.

Diabetes programs are of particular importance to Native American communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that Native Americans and Alaska Natives have a greater chance of getting diabetes than any other U.S. racial group.

With increased risk come greater health complications and higher health care costs.

The SDPI renewal bill would have funded the program for five years at $200 million per year, marking its first funding increase in 15 years. However, the Energy and Commerce Committee reduced the funding level to $150 million for four years at a July meeting.

Congress has historically renewed SDPI in one to three year increments at $150 million per year.

“Without this program, hundreds of Tribes across the country will not have vitally needed resources and the progress made since 1997 will be at risk,” the NIHB said in a recent newsletter alert to members and supporters.

The NIHB encouraged those in Indian Country to contact their respective members of Congress to push for the continuation of SDPI and its funding.

Earlier this year, at least 379 out of 435 House members signed onto a letter supporting the program.

The SDPI is one of two diabetes-related bills in Congress. The other is the Special Diabetes Program or SDP. The fate of that bill’s extension was also not known by press time.

SDP funds programs researching type-1 diabetes treatment. That bill would increase SDP funding to $200 million.

More information is at nihb.org.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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