Senate Indian Affairs Committee Field Hearing Discusses Lack of Funding for American Indian Health Care
Witnesses at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee field hearing on Wednesday in Montana said that health services for American Indians often are inadequate because of insufficient financial support from the federal government, the AP/Casper Star-Tribune reports. American Indian tribal leaders said that high mortality, chronic disease and alcoholism rates have "crippled their communities" and that a lack of funding from the federal government is a "betrayal of the treaties in which tribes gave up ancestral lands in exchange for a pledge of federal protection," according to the AP/Star-Tribune.
Pete Conway, a local director for the federal Indian Health Service, said some tribes in North and South Dakota receive only 40% of the health care funding they need. In September, the Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which has not been reauthorized in 15 years. The reauthorization would not allocate any additional funds for health services, but rather would "merely authorize" new spending if Congress separately approves additional funds, according to the AP/Star-Tribune. The reauthorization bill also would expand some mental health services and after-hour care on American Indian reservations.
Committee Chair Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said at the hearing, "We are rationing health care to Native Americans," adding that IHS officials need to explain "exactly what is happening" with the funding. IHS Acting Chief Medical Officer Charles North said the agency is putting up a "good struggle" to improve services, but he added, "The Senate controls the funding. We don't control how much we get" (Brown, AP/Casper Star-Tribune, 8/16).