Farmington — The U.S. House of Representatives has reauthorized a grant program to help with the treatment and prevention of diabetes among American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Congress in 1997 established the Special Diabetes Program for Indians to address the growing epidemic of diabetes among American Indians and Alaska Natives.

American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of Type 2 diabetes in the United States, according to the National Indian Health Board. American Indians and Alaska Natives are 2.2 times more likely to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes than non-Hispanic whites, according to the American Diabetes Association.

The Special Diabetes Program for Indians is a $150 million grant program that provides funding to more than 400 Indian Health Service, tribal and urban Indian health programs.

Since its establishment, it has enabled Native communities to develop, sustain and increase access to diabetes programs, according to the Indian Health Service Division of Diabetes Treatment and Prevention, which houses the program.

The reauthorization was included in a bill to reform Medicare payments to doctors.

U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., sponsored the bill, which passed by voice vote on Thursday.

Proponents of the reauthorization pushed for a five-year reauthorization, instead of the one-year reauthorization, which has occurred in previous years, according to a legislative alert issued by the Navajo Nation Washington Office.

But to avoid controversy or debate about other items contained in the bill, representatives decided to pass the one-year extension by voice vote, the tribe's Washington Office reported.

Officials with the Navajo Nation Special Diabetes Project could not be reached for comment by press time Friday.

The bill now advances to the Senate.

The Senate version contains a five-year reauthorization and was introduced on March 11 by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

The Special Diabetes Program for Indians is set to expire on Sept. 30, unless it is extended by Congress.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and nsmith@daily-times.com. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.