Bill would authorize Medicaid to cover Indigenous healing services in Utah

Feb 19, 2024, 4:00 PM | Updated: 4:33 pm

FILE: Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, speaks at a Senate Revenue and Taxati...

FILE: Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, speaks at a Senate Revenue and Taxation Standing Committee meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. Escamilla has sponsored a bill that would include traditional Native medicine for reimbursement through Medicaid.(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would cover traditional Indigenous healing services under Medicaid is making its way through the Utah Legislature.

The bill from Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, would include traditional Indigenous medicine for reimbursement through Medicaid.

According to the bill’s language, SB181 “would require the Department of Health and Human Service(s) to apply for a Medicaid waiver related to traditional healing services.”

Data from the state of Utah shows that about 3% of Utah Medicaid enrollees are Native American. That means about 15,000 residents could benefit from SB181.

Right now, New Mexico is the only state federally approved to cover this type of medicine.

Defining Indigenous healing

The bill defines a traditional healing provider as a person who “provides traditional healing services in a manner that is recognized by an American Indian or Alaskan Native tribe as being
consistent with the tribe’s traditional healing practices.”

The bill further defines traditional healing services as “a system of culturally appropriate healing methods for physical, mental, and emotional healing.”

Escamilla explained in the last hearing how the state would choose healers for coverage.

“Tribal governments and councils will be the ones proving who are those traditional healers,” she said. “And then they will be the ones providing the qualifications for the facilities to be able to receive their reimbursement.”

In other words, the governments of Utah’s eight sovereign tribes would decide which services and providers would be covered.

Escamilla said she hopes this change in Utah law will address longstanding health disparities for Utah’s Native residents.

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Bill would authorize Medicaid to cover Indigenous healing services in Utah