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Improving the health of Oklahoma's Native Americans

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Lawton_The Oklahoma Department of Health is on a mission to improve the health and well-being of Oklahoma's Native Americans.

They're teaming up with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and representatives from Oklahoma's tribal nations over the next few weeks for what they're calling "listening sessions."
health officials say it's all a part of Governor Mary Fallin's goal to identify and address tribal health needs in the state.

Representatives from fifteen Native American tribes gathered at the Comanche Nation Complex to give their input on how to improve the health of their members.

Muscogee Creek Nation Principal Leader George Tiger says he was shocked to learn about 125,000 Native Americans either don't have healthcare at all or what they do have, is too expensive.

"Those types of statistics that we're hearing and seeing are alarming. We're the fourth-largest nation in our country, so certainly a red flag is raised and we're looking at how we can be aggressive and making sure that our people have the best health care," Tiger said.

Oklahoma Kiowa Tribe Representative Amber Toppah says each tribe is different when it comes to dealing with health problems like diabetes, obesity and chronic heart disease. She commends the health department's efforts to talk with every state tribe.

"They're getting input from every single federally recognized tribe and have it down on paper. That way you can say we did speak to these individuals and this is what they want," Toppah said.

Through the first two listening sessions, Julie Cox-Kain, with the State Department of Health says Native Americans have identified certain policies that are already in place that they would like to keep.

"A person would buy health insurance on a health exchange as an example, Native Americans have a monthly enrollment, instead of an annual enrollment, or they have limited cost-sharing for their insurance coverage," said Cox-Kain.

October 1st is the beginning of the health plan enrollment period.
The next "listening session' is Wednesday, February 13th, at the Pawnee Tribal Complex in Pawnee.

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