Lawmakers Discuss Funding for Indian Health Service FacilitiesSenate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Tuesday said he is sponsoring legislation that would allow American Indian tribes to issue tax-exempt bonds for the construction of public facilities and infrastructure, including health care facilities, the Billings Gazette reports. The Tribal Government Tax-Exempt Bond Parity Act (S 1850) -- co-sponsored by Baucus and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) -- would allow tribes to be treated like state governments for purposes of issuing bonds for projects on reservations.
At an annual legislative summit of the National Congress of American Indians, Baucus said the bill would help improve infrastructure and create jobs. Baucus said that the health care situation on reservations is "a whole lot more dire" than elsewhere, adding that if members of Congress toured Indian Health Service facilities, "they would be so embarrassed, they'd rush back to the Congress and do something about it."
Congress last week approved the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which reauthorizes IHS through 2017 and aims to improve the quality of care on reservations. Committee members commended the bill but said more must be done to improve American Indian health care. Indian Affairs Committee Chair Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said he will push for an additional $1 billion in IHS health care funding when the Senate considers the fiscal year 2009 budget next week (Straub, Billings Gazette, 3/6). According to Dorgan, there is a $3 billion backlog in construction and repair of IHS health facilities. President Bush's budget proposal would reduce IHS funding by $21 million (Native American Times, 3/6). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.