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A new report released by the US Census Bureau reveals that the number of Americans claiming Indigenous heritage jumped from 5.2 million in 2010 to 9.6 million in 2020. A Washington Post article explains that the Census relies on individual assessment of tribal affiliation rather than tribal enrollment, and that this explosion in the recorded Indigenous peoples population is likely due to increases in people claiming to be part-American Indian or Alaska Native. 

Accurate representation of groups by the Census is important because this count of the population serves as a key basis for determining the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives as well as the distribution of federal funds that support programs such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program that aim to reduce disparities in health and health care.

AMA Code of Medical Ethics Opinion 8.5, “Disparities in Health Care,” calls on physicians “to provide the same quality of care to all patients without regard to medically irrelevant personal characteristics.” Physicians must avoid differences in treatment that “may contribute to health outcomes that are considerably worse in members of some populations than those of majority populations.” Challenges remain, however, when social and economic barriers create unequal access to care, a problem that is particularly common for those living in tribal communities. Improving the accuracy of the Census to ensure better political representation is an important step in reducing health disparities that disproportionately affect Indigenous peoples

To further explore the AMA Code of Medical Ethics, please visit


Published on November 7, 2023