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Health | Opinion
CSKT Chairman: Straight talk and action on health


"As I sit here in Pablo, 1,900 miles from Washington, D.C., I fear the debate on health care has gotten so mired in the weeds that the country has lost sight of the big picture. There is one absolute bottom line: Neither Montana nor the country as a whole can afford not to enact health care reform. The consequences of inaction will be disastrous.

So why would a tribal chairman from western Montana be concerned about this? Don't Indians get their health care from the Indian Health Service, a branch of the Public Health Service? Well we don't have much of an IHS presence on the Flathead Reservation and have no IHS hospital or even a significant IHS-run clinic. We are therefore overly reliant on what is known as Contract Health Care, where the IHS pays for the costs of private doctors. Unfortunately the appropriations committees have for decades not funded it at even a basic level of need. We also contribute to a self insurance fund and like everyone else, we would like to see those costs reduced and health insurance reform would help accomplish that.

My other interest relates to a recent visit by a Fox News reporter to an Indian reservation in South Dakota. He made the argument that if the IHS couldn't provide decent health care there, how could the federal government do so nationally? This is the first I had heard of Fox News being concerned about the health of the American Indian people. The crocodile tears they shed were not only disingenuous but a continuation of their misleading attacks on anything Obama. They were comparing apples to oranges. On the reservations they visited, the federal government, through the IHS, is providing direct care with federally employed doctors and nurses.

If the debate in Washington was over the question of whether we should have nationalized health care then comparisons to the IHS might be interesting and educational. That is not what is on the table and Fox knows better. What is pending is legislation that would, among its other positive components, prohibit insurance companies from cancelling policies when their customers get sick. Isn't that something we would all want to see?"

Get the Story:
James Steele Jr.: We can’t afford not to have health reform (The Missoulian 8/31)