Each November we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month -- the history, culture, and character of American Indian and Alaska Native people.
This year's theme, "Native Families Moving Ahead: Together We Strengthen Our Nations," speaks to the importance of continuing on the path to a healthier future for all American families.
I had the opportunity this summer to see this theme in action in South Dakota, as I toured the new Indian Health Service (IHS) Cheyenne River Health Center, which along with enhanced medical services includes a Spiritual Room where patients and families can practice their traditions.
We are committed to ensuring the health and well-being of all Americans, which is why we are working to reduce the health disparities that have burdened American Indians and Alaska Natives. Historically, for example, American Indians and Alaska Natives have been more likely to die from diabetes than other racial and ethnic groups.
The Affordable Care Act includes the permanent authorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which makes it possible for IHS to update and expand health care services. An IHS report to Congress this year showed how the Special Diabetes Program for Indians has done a tremendous job of fighting this disease by increasing preventive services and access to treatment in Tribal communities.
The Affordable Care Act also helps all Americans by requiring insurers to allow young adults to stay on their parents' health plans and requiring coverage with no out-of-pocket costs for certain preventive services. In 2014, there will be more affordable options for insurance coverage through new health insurance exchanges, or marketplaces.
Health care is just one area in which we are working to increase support for Indian Country. The Administration for Children and Families is working with the Native American Fatherhood and Families Association on a national campaign to promote the importance of fatherhood in Tribal communities. We're also investing in Head Start and child care programs, innovative substance abuse and mental health initiatives, suicide prevention efforts, job training, and economic development campaigns.
Please join me in celebrating National Native American Heritage Month and bolstering our commitment to ensuring that all American Indian and Alaska Native people have the opportunity for a stronger and healthier future.