American Indian Health Care Advocates, Lawmakers Look to Next Administration for Passing of Reauthorization Bill
With Congress expected to adjourn for the year without passing the Health Care Improvement Act reauthorization bill (S 1200), Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chair Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and American Indian leaders are looking to the incoming Obama administration for support, the Fargo Forum reports. The bill, approved by the Senate, would allocate $35 billion over the next 10 years for American Indian health care programs, including screening services and mental health programs, and would improve access to health care. The bill also would increase tribal access to Medicare and Medicaid, prompt new construction and modernization of reservation health clinics, and seek to recruit more American Indians into the health care professions.
Jacqueline Johnson, director of the National Congress of American Indians, said her group plans to push for passage of the bill during the next Congress. Dorgan said he believes that President-elect Barack Obama will be a "much more aggressive advocate" for American Indian communities. Obama campaigned heavily in Indian Country -- "more than any presidential candidate before him" -- and said he supports more funding for Indian Health Service and better services at IHS clinics, the Forum reports. He also has promised to create the first White House position to oversee American Indian affairs.
Johnson said, "Having a president start (paying attention to Indian issues) earlier in his term gives him an opportunity to accomplish so much," adding, "The president sets the tone" (Jalonick, Fargo Forum, 12/1).
In related news, a group of U.S. senators has sent President Bush a letter requesting that federal agencies include in their 2010 budgets funding approved for American Indians in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, Indian Country Today reports (Capriccioso, Indian Country Today, 11/28). Legislation (S 2731) approved by the Senate in July reauthorized PEPFAR at $50 billion over five years. The legislation calls for $2 billion of that total to be directed toward American Indian health care and other programs.
Over the next five years, the funds would go to health services, building and rehabilitating health clinics, improving community sewer and water systems, tribal police departments and courts, constructing tribal detention centers, and investigating and prosecuting crimes on reservations (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 7/17).
The letter -- signed by Dorgan and Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John Tester (D-Mont.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) -- said the funds are needed to strengthen access to health care and to improve public safety resources in Indian Country.
Jon Lauck, a senior adviser to Thune, said the funding is a "brand new authorization created in July 2008 and thus was not included in the FY 2009 budget that passed Congress in early 2008." He added that the letter was directed to Bush because "he is the individual that puts out the original budget in February. It is usually easier once things get to Congress if the money is already in the president's budget."
Congressional leaders likely will send a similar letter to Obama, according to Indian Country Today. Lauck added that if neither Bush nor Obama includes the funds in their proposed budgets, Thune "will be pursuing options within Congress" (Indian Country Today, 11/28).
The letter is available online.