Native American – Disparities in Life Expectancy and Health Care

Health problems continue to plague Indian Country at an alarming and disproportionate rate, and the statistics are staggering. For example, American Indians and Alaska Natives suffer from an infant death rate 60 percent higher than the rate for Caucasians, and are twice as likely to have diabetes as Caucasians. Their life expectancy is also on average over four years lower than the rest of the U.S. population due to these and other health conditions (Demographics for American Indian/Alaska Natives). The Indian Health Service blames, in part, disproportionate poverty and discrimination in the delivery of health services, which “are rooted in economic adversity and poor social conditions.”

Life Expectancy One of the most significant contributing factors to the cause of this disparity in life expectancy is the lack of clean water and sanitation facilities in tribal homes. According to HIS, “families with satisfactory environmental conditions in their homes, which include safe water and sewerage systems, require appreciably fewer medical services and place fewer demands on the Indian Health Service (IHS) and tribal primary health care delivery system.” Indeed, IHS maintains that: “for every dollar IHS spends on sanitation facilities to serve eligible existing homes, at least a twenty-fold return in health benefits is achieved.” (Safe Water and Waste Disposal Facilitates).


Clean Drinking Water can play a huge part of better Life Expectancy for Native Americans

The chart below shows that many of the health care problems plaguing Indian Country could be resolved by simply providing tribal homes services that the rest of the country takes for granted – clean drinking water. The problem, however, is funding. IHS indicates that there is a backlog of 3,675 needed tribal sanitation facilities construction projects at a cost of $3.4 billion.

Life Expectancy

Until adequate funding is provided for these basic human needs, Native Americans and Alaska Natives will continue to suffer disproportionately. By allocating funding for these programs, the federal government could actually safe taxpayer money in the long-run, and dramatically improve the quality of life and life expectancy of Native Americans and Alaska Natives.

Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith

Manager and co-owner of Hohokam™ Water LLC

red-canyon-logoManager and co-owner of Red CanyonTM Water LLC, Ryan A. Smith, has dedicated his career to helping tribes secure access to clean drinking water. Ryan served as Deputy Counsel for the Arizona Department of Water Resources and as professional staff in the U.S. Senate where he secured hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funding for Indian tribes throughout the United States. He continues to work as an attorney, working with tribes to secure funding for critical water infrastructure.