National Congress of American Indians President Joe Garcia on Thursday called on Congress to pass the long-overdue Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
During the sixth annual State of Indian Nation address, Garcia said the bill has been delayed for more than a decade. "Indian health care services have not been updated in 16 years," Garcia said at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
"Almost two decades of health modernization has left Indian Country behind," he added.
The bill, S.1200, finally made it to the floor of the Senate last week. But it was shelved after two days of debate in order to move onto other legislative priorities.
"We applaud our many Congressional supporters in this effort, but we need more champions to step up and demand a vote to stop the health care despair engulfing Native communities," said Garcia.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the vice chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, has been one of the main proponents of the bill. She said she was "frustrated" by the delays that
have prevented reauthorization of the IHCIA.
"We will keep pushing in the Senate," she told attendees of the speech, as she questioned why
more of her colleagues haven't made the bill a priority.
S.1200 has 31 sponsors, or more than half of the Senate. Members of both parties have signed onto the bill.
But during debate last week, a statement by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)
highlighted the challenges the bill faces in an election year, when the economy and the war in Iraq dominate the agenda. "American lives will not depend on the passage of
Indian health care by the end of this month," the Senate minority leader said on January 22.
Besides scheduling issues, the bill faces a potential veto from President Bush. The White House issued a statement of administration policy last week that objects to numerous provisions, including those affecting urban Indians and fair wages.
Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada), the Senate majority leader, has said he will bring the bill back to the floor. More than a dozen amendments have been proposed but no agreements have been made on how the debate will proceed.
The last time the Senate considered the bill, it was derailed by last-minute objections from the Department of Justice. A "white paper" that outlined constitutional issues was used by Republicans to delay passage in September 2006.
Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments:S.1200
White House Document:
Statement of Administration Policy
(January 22, 2008)
House Energy and Commerce Committee Documents:Summary
to President Bush
to Alberto Gonzales
National Congress of American Indians - http://www.ncai.org
Indian Health Service - http://www.ihs.gov
Indian Health Board - http://www.nihb.org
Related Stories:Editorial: Rebuff Bush's veto threat on IHCIA
(1/28) Editorial: Reponsibility for Indian health care
(1/28) Abourezk: Hope for Indian
health care reform
(1/25) Senate vote on
IHCIA delayed until next week
2 of Senate debate on Indian Health Care
(1/23) Northwest tribes await outcome of IHCIA vote
(1/23)Senate opens long-delayed debate
(1/22)Sen. Coburn won't hold up
Indian health bill
(1/21) Abourezk: GOP
candidates silent on IHCIA
expected to vote on Indian Health Care Act
(1/17)Sen. Dorgan: Indian health care an
(12/7)Arizona rebuffed on
Indian health care costs
subcommittee approves Indian health care bill
(11/08)IHCIA delayed but could come up next week
(10/26)Long-delayed IHCIA set for vote in
(10/22) Indian health care
leaders win prestigious award
(10/04)Indian Country rallies for health care in U.S.