The push to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act
continued last week with a hearing before the House Natural Resources
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia), the chairman of the committee,
expressed anger at the failure to renew the law, which expired in 2000
He blamed the delays on Bush administration, singling out
the release of a "white paper" that killed the bill last
"I wonder how many young Indian children suffered needlessly because of
that action," he said.
Dr. Charles Grim, the director of the Indian Health Service, said
the administration "strongly" supports reauthorization. But
the bill, H.R.1328, faces the same objections outlined
in the white paper, including services for
urban Indians, malpractice suits for home and traditional care
and other organizational changes.
A panel of tribal leaders refuted the criticism. Buford Rolin,
the chairman of Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama,
said the concerns over who can receive health services were unfounded
because the definition of "Indian" has remained the same for
more than 30 years.
Rolin also compared
the state of Indian health care to the national scandal over dismal
conditions for Iraqi war veterans at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.
"Indian people accessing services
from the Indian Health Service system face problems
similar to those at Walter Reed and other Veterans Affairs
hospitals: old facilities, obsolete equipment, bureaucratic red tape and
waiting years for specialty services most Americans receive in weeks or months,"
said Rolin, the co-chair of the national steering committee
to reauthorize the IHCIA.
Linda Holt, the chairwoman of the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board,
brought a stirring message to the committee. Citing her
personal experience with methamphetamine, she said tribes
need the flexibility that the IHCIA reauthorization will provide
in order to respond to the needs of their people.
"I'm the mother of a meth addict," said Holt, a council member for the
Suquamish Tribe of Washington.
"I've seen the progression, I've seen what it has
done to my family. I've seen my son in and out of institutions, getting
and I've seen him in and out of correctional facilities that have done
nothing for his condition."
Holt decried the "deplorable" lack of funding for
substance abuse and mental health.
"My tribe, in our IHS funding, our mental health funding
is $327 a year. What are we supposed to do with that?" she asked.
All of the committee members who attended the hearing were
supportive of the reauthorization. Some of the most pointed
questions to Dr. Grim of the IHS came from Republicans, including Rep. Steve
Pearce of New Mexico and Rep. Don Young of Alaska, who
tried to renew the law when he was chairman and now serves
as the ranking member.
Rahall said he hopes to report the bill
as soon as possible. But the bill also has to go before
the Energy and Natural Resources and the
Ways and Means committees in the House.
In the Senate, the Indian Affairs Committee held a hearing
on the reauthorization last week, although the Senate
version of the bill hasn't been introduced yet.
Full Committee Legislative Hearing: Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments of 2007
(March 14, 2007)
Health Care Improvement Act Amendments of 2007
to President Bush
to Alberto Gonzales
Indian Health Service - http://www.ihs.gov
Indian Health Board - http://www.nihb.org
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