Eastern Shoshone Recovery’s Sunny Goggles, Tribal Health Representative Kelly Webb and Eastern Shoshone Tribal Liaison Sara Robinson testified at Tuesday’s hearing. (Ernie Over photo) 

Part 2 of a series

(Fort Washakie, Wyo.) – Health officials on the Wind River Indian Reservation sought the assistance of the Wyoming Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations Tuesday in their effort to obtain a Medicare Section 1115 waiver. (See that story here)

Eastern Shoshone Tribal Liaison Sara Robinson testified that the Tribes are also looking to have traditional medicine practices covered by Medicare and Medicaid as well. “We don’t always go to a doctor, or for Western medicine,” she said, referring to enrolled reservation residents. “Those expenses are not reimbursable through Medicare or Medicaid.”

Robinson introduced two reservation health representatives to testify to conditions on the WRIR, Kelly Webb and Sunny Goggles.

“Because of non-reimbursable services and the disparity in health care that we face,  young men and women are dying before they reach age 35 because they have no medical care,” Webb testified. She then produced a handout that was developed for the Joint Business Council that listed causes of death, mortality statistics over the past decade and risk factors for reservation residents.

“In Wyoming, the causes of death between 2001 and 2010 of the Tribal population of the state included, in order, Accidents and other adverse effects, cancer, heart disease, chronic liver disease, diabetes and COPD (a respiratory condition,” Webb said.

She also said the Tribal population of the state has much higher mortality than the population at large, according to the State of Wyoming’s Vital Statistics Division.

Goggles related those statistics.

“The incidence of death of Tribal members from cancer, for instance, is 185.7 per 100,000 while it is 173.1 in the white population. For the other leading causes of death, the differences include 170.28 to 164.07 for Heart Disease, 121.01 to 61.75 for accidents or adverse effects,  90.01 to 23.22 for Diabetes, 87.00 to 9.85 for Chronic Liver Disease and 140.00 to 60.00 for Infant Mortality,” she said. In each case, the incidents of death were much higher in the Tribal population.

Among risk factors for Native Americans and Alaska Natives that Goggles said were identified by  the Centers for Disease Control included: Unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use, geographic isolation, economic factors (poverty), culturally competent providers, cultural barriers, obesity, teen pregnancy, infant mortality, air/pollution, substance abuse, lack of quality and specialty health care, lack of health insurance, psychosocial stress and a hesitation to seek medical assistance.

Goggles also reported that the average life expectancy for the general population is 78.7 years, but for Native Americans it is 71.1 years. In a study of tribal members in South Dakota, she said the life expectancy there was 64 years. In Wyoming, however, she said the average age of death for Native Americans is 53.1 years.

In Part III, we’ll examine how the local Indian Health Service clinics deal with reservation health issues.