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In January 2014 Cherokee National Principal Chief Bill John Baker issued an executive order to expand the healthcare package of the Cherokee Tribe in Oklahoma, allowing more than 317,000 citizens further access to hearing aids.

Hearing Aids and Healthcare Reform

The hearing aid program of the Cherokee Nation, the largest of three federally recognized Cherokee tribes in the United States, was recently expanded to allow for increased distribution of hearing aids.

The tribe, a 14-county northeast jurisdiction in Oklahoma, is normally provided hearing aids by the Cherokee Nation health services. The revised hearing aid program now mandates that a Cherokee Nation citizen can receive two hearing aids, whereas previous legislation allowed for only one hearing aid.

This new executive order will be funded through the Corporate Health Dividend Act of 2011, an act that increases the Cherokee Nation Businesses’ annual payment to the Tribal Government from 30 percent to 35 percent of the businesses’ income. The additional 5 percent increase provided by the Cherokee Nation businesses is used to further supplement healthcare services, and the additional hearing aids will be provided by funding specifically from the tribe’s gaming revenues.

Contract health services also cover special surgeries and equipment including dentures and eyeglasses, items that would otherwise not be supported by federal funding. Other revisions to the healthcare of the Cherokee nation include the $100 million dollars in health care facilities, a revision of Claremore Indian Hospital’s contract health program and a three-month prescription drug program. Past achievements from Principal Chief Bill John Baker include his successful petitioning of the Cherokee Nation Businesses to sell its corporate airplane and give the proceeds of the sale, roughly $1.5 million, to Cherokee healthcare services.

Hearing Aids and Native Americans

Otitis media, or inflammation of the middle ear, is a common cause of middle ear diseases in Native American groups characterized by fever, pain, irritability (in infants) as well as coughing and nasal discharge. It is caused by blockage of the auditory tube, a tube connected to the inner ear, and swelling of the upper part of the pharynx.

Otitis media often occurs in young children, with lack of healthcare and low socioeconomic status being possible factors in the illness. Incidences of acute otitis media in the general child population is 5 percent, whereas rates of the disease among poorer children increase from about 20 to 25 percent. Additionally, children with recurring incidences of acute otitis media are more likely to develop hearing loss. With the prevalence of otitis media and other middle ear infections in Native American tribes, these new developments in hearing aid distribution have been welcomed with open arms. In the cases of Native American patterns of hearing loss, increased funding for healthcare service may serve as a preventative measure for protecting against ear infection and hearing loss.

by Aaron Rodriques