U.S. Government Underfunding American Indian Health Care by $2B, Opinion Piece Says
"American Indians are the only population born with a legal right to health care" in the U.S., yet death rates "from preventable causes like diabetes, alcoholism and mental illness are dramatically higher among American Indians than the rest of the population," Donald Warne, president and CEO of American Indian Health Management & Policy, writes in a Billings Gazette opinion piece. Despite this "gross inequality," the Indian Health Service department is "underfunded to the tune of $2 billion," according to Warne.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs and IHS "were established to administer the federal government's trust responsibility to provide health care and other vital services to American Indians," Warne writes, adding that the U.S. government "can rapidly spend $150 billion to send taxpayers a $600 rebate to stimulate the economy and ... can spend about $2 billion per week on the war in Iraq. But we can't fulfill our trust responsibility to honor our treaties with the country's first inhabitants, even though that additional $2 billion could make life-and-death differences," he adds.
Some opponents of federal funding for American Indian health care services maintain that tribes with "successful casinos" should help other tribes pay for such services, Warne notes. However, this is basically "advocating socialism," Warne writes, adding, "Until the rest of the nation is willing to socialize medicine and other services, tribes should not be held to a higher standard." He continues, "Each tribe is a sovereign entity, and it is not the tribes' responsibility to provide health care to each other; it is the federal government's responsibility" (Warne, Billings Gazette, 5/28).