Congressional Republicans believe they can improve Indian Health Service – and the first step is to cut money from the already underfunded IHS budget.
IHS provides primary health care for the majority of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.
“For years, the Indian Health Service has fallen short in providing high quality medical care throughout Indian Country,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) said. “The long history of failures at IHS are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Barrasso is the primary sponsor of the new Indian health care bill.
Last week Native American and Alaskan Native leaders urged Congress to allocate at least $7 billion to IHS for 2018. Analysts expect Congress to allocate only about $3.5 billion.
In requesting $7 billion Native groups hope to bring health care spending on reservations in line with mainstream America, according to Esther Lucero, executive director of the Seattle Indian Health Board.
For mainstream Americans $8,517 per capita is spent, compared to $3,136 for Indian Health Service patients, she said in a written statement.
But that seems unlikely in the 2018 budget proposed by President Donald Trump, which calls for a 12-percent cut to the Department of the Interior and a 17.9-percent cut to the Department of
Health and Human Services.
“There’s no way we could have cuts of that magnitude without seeing dramatic impact in Indian Country,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), one of only two tribally enrolled members of Congress. Cole introduced a companion bill to Barrasso’s in the House of Representatives.
Barrasso’s committee found that one of the major problems with IHS is simply that it merely reshuffles personnel around when problems arise.
Another problem is the long wait time for patients.
“It would be a significant understatement to say tribal members deserve better health care than what they’re accustomed to receiving from IHS,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). Thune co-sponsored the bill.
GOP Wants to Improve Indian Health Care