Master of Jurisprudence in Indian Law - University of Tulsa College of Law
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Health | Opinion
Mark Trahant: First Americans are last in health


"More than three decades ago another health care debate focused on Indian Country. At the time, there were too many dilapidated medical facilities, an inability to recruit and retain health professionals (especially American Indians), as well as a host of other structural deficits, Congress responded in 1976 by passing the $1.6 billion Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

The Office of Management and Budget recommended a veto. OMB’s deputy director Paul O’Neill said the Indian Health Service didn’t need the money because there was “no evidence that a vast infusion of funds … would achieve better or faster results than are being achieved under orderly program growth.” O’Neill argued that extra money would not be effective because Indian health statistics were “especially in connection with causes of death, e.g., alcoholism, accidents and suicide, associated with reservation social conditions, i.e., poverty, isolation and inadequate housing. Unfortunately, we have not been especially successful in combating alcoholism and suicides in non-reservation areas.”

Fortunately President Ford had other advisers, including Dr. Ted Mars who responded directly to O’Neill in a memo. “Admittedly, I am biased as a physician in favor of equity in length of life so you will have to excuse my considering the humanitarian aspect along with the budgetary, pragmatic and political,” Mars wrote. “Failure to adjust the present course is in my opinion a flagrant deprivation of human rights in a measurable as well as dramatic way.”

President Ford did the right thing. “I am signing this bill because of my own conviction that our First Americans should not be last in opportunity.”"

Get the Story:
Talking and tinkering, standard fare for Indian Health Care legislation (Mark Trahant 7/20)

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