American Indian Tribes Hope for Improvements in IHS With Tom Daschle as HHS Secretary
American Indian tribal leaders are anticipating that former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) could make significant improvements to Indian Health Services to address funding shortages, health disparities and access to care if he is confirmed as HHS secretary, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports (Bremner, Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 11/21). Daschle has reportedly accepted an offer from President-elect Barack Obama to become the new HHS secretary, according to Democratic officials. Obama likely will make an official announcement about the nomination of Daschle early next week, according to a Democratic official familiar with the process (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 11/20).
During his 26 years in Congress, Daschle was a "good friend" to American Indians and for more than a decade tried unsuccessfully to get Congress to add billions of dollars in funding to IHS' budget and pass legislation that modernizes the agency, the Argus Leader reports. Various changes are needed to update the agency, including increasing emphasis on preventive health care, such as diabetes education, and permitting tribes to establish home health care for the elderly and hospice programs. Tribal leaders contend that as HHS secretary, Daschle would "be in an even better position to see that the federal government lives up to its treaty obligations," the Argus Leader reports.
In the last fiscal year, IHS received $4.3 billion in funding, which tribal leaders say was less than half of what the agency needed to fully fund its health programs. Leaders said that funding for specialty health care services, such as cancer treatment and hospital care, is usually depleted three months before the end of the budget year. James Melbourne, director of the Fort Peck Tribal Health Department in Montana, said, "When the money runs out, you ration health care, people die" (Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 11/21).