Madam President, I come to the floor today to talk about my support for the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. I'm a cosponsor of this bill because there is a vital need for our Native American communities to have access to modernized health care.

Today the health disparities between our tribal communities and the rest of the country are shocking. According to the Indian health service, the average life expectancy for Native Americans is almost two and a half years below any other group in the country. The incident of sudden death syndrome among tribal communities is more than three times the rate of non-tribal infants. And if you are a Native American, you are 200% more likely to die from diabetes. You are 500% more likely to die from tuberculosis. You are 550% more likely to die from alcoholism. And you are 60% more likely to commit suicide.

Madam President, these may seem like nothing but statistics, but behind them are real people who are in real need of modernized health care services. The suicide rate among Native American youth is the highest of any racial group in the nation. In fact, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among Native American youth. 

One of the country's most recent victims is a 12-year-old red lake boy who hanged himself last October. This young boy's suicide only added to the heartache of the Red Lake Indian Reservation, which is located in my state of Minnesota. And in this Indian reservation, the people there had already suffered a lot. 

Back in March of 2005 at the Red Lake High School, a troubled teenager named Jeff Weiss went on a shooting rampage killing nine people before turning the gun on himself. Most of the news report highlighted the troubled teen's past, including a history of depression and suicide attempts and the daunting socioeconomic conditions in his reservation community.

This calamity serves as a tragic reminder of the importance of increasing efforts to effectively address mental health issues in Indian country as elsewhere.  And I know my colleague, Senator Dorgan, has been leading this effort, this bipartisan effort, to make sure that we reauthorize this important act. 

We know the negative impact that mental health issues have on our community, but we also know that access to modern mental health care resources can make a difference. That is why it is so critical to reauthorize the Indian Health Care and Improvement Act.  Reauthorizing this bill will provide tribal communities with the tools needed to build comprehensive behavioral health prevention and treatment programs, programs that emphasize collaboration among alcohol and substance abuse, social services, and mental health programs. Programs that will help communities such as Red Lake prevent further tragedies.

Reauthorizing this bill will also help tribal communities attract and retain qualified Indian health care professionals and address the backlog and needed health care facilities on Indian reservations. I visited the facilities. I visited the reservation throughout my state, and I know that they're in need of this help.

The lack of availability of nearby health care facilities in specialized treatment is a major concern for tribal communities, especially those with large reservations.  The White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota is the largest reservation in our state. It spans 200 miles and it is home to almost 10,000 people, yet elective surgeries are not even an option in an area that spans 200 miles due to a lack of modernized health care resources and facilities. Currently these White Earth tribal members are unable to go, undergo elective surgery on the reservation.

These are people who need a hip replacement or a knee replacement or a simple cataract surgery, but they're unable to get the health care they deserve because there is a lack of doctors, adequate medical facilities, and basic insurance coverage. The federal government has a trust responsibility to provide health care for our tribal communities.      I cosponsored the Indian Health Care Improvement Act because we made a commitment to our tribal communities. We must insure that our tribal communities have access to convenient, preventive and modern health care. I urge my colleagues to join me and support reauthorizing this important bill. Madam President, I yield the floor.