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Health Coverage for American Indians and Alaska Natives
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Proposed boost in IHS budget rejected by Senate
Friday, March 12, 2004

The U.S. Senate voted 51 to 45 early this morning to approve a $2.4 trillion budget after rejecting an amendment to increase Indian Health Service (IHS) by $3.44 billion.

Sen. Tom Daschle (D.S.D.), the minority leader, called for an increase to the clinical services portion of the IHS budget. In a speech on the Senate floor, he criticized the federal government for failing to provide adequate health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives.

"There are 2.5 million Native Americans in this country who, theoretically, have insurance. All too often, they get abysmal health care, or none at all," he said. "America is obligated, by law and by treaty, to provide free health care for American Indians -- a commitment we made to Indian people when the U.S. government took their lands."

"America is not honoring that commitment," he added.

Daschle offered the amendment to the budget resolution, which sets the federal government's spending levels for fiscal year 2005 and for the the four years following. He said the increase in IHS funds would be offset by reducing tax breaks for wealthy Americans.

But Republicans argued that the measure, along with others offered by Democrats, would lead to tax increases and upset plans to reduce the federal deficit, which stands at a half a trillion dollars.

The party line prevailed when the roll call on Daschle's amendment was called last evening and all Republicans present voted against it. Three Democrats, including Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, whose state has a 7.4 percent Indian population, joined the GOPs. The final tally was 54 against the amendment and 42 for it.

Repeating last year's floor action on the budget resolution, Republican leaders immediately offered an amendment to increase the total IHS account by $292 million. This amendment was swiftly approved, as it was last year.

But when it came time to implement the figure into the Department of Interior's budget bill, which includes the IHS, Republicans relented and voted against it last fall.

In February of this year, President Bush outlined a total budget of about $3 billion for IHS, an increase of 1.6 percent over current levels. In Bush's budget, clinical services is funded at $2.7 billion, an increase of $75 million.

Even if Daschle's amendment to the clinical services item were approved, tribal leaders say the amount would not be enough to provide adequate health care in Indian Country.

"Inflation really is our deadly enemy here," said Don Kashevaroff, president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The rising cost of health care wipes out any gains in the IHS budget, he said.

According to government statistics, the U.S. spends about $1,900 on health care per Native American. The government spends twice that much for federal prisoners.

On The Senate Floor:
Sen. Daschle Speech (March 11, 2004)

Roll Call:
S.Amdt 2774: To create a reserve fund to allow for an increase in Indian Health Service Clinical Services by $3.44 billion and lower the national debt by eliminating abusive tax loopholes or reducing tax breaks for individuals with incomes in excess of $1 million per year (March 11, 2004)

Text of Amendment:
S.AMDT.2774

Budget Documents:
HHS Budget in Brief | HHS Performance Plan | Secretary Thompson's Remarks

Relevant Links:
Indian Health Service - http://www.ihs.gov
Department of Health and Human Services - http://www.hhs.gov

Related Stories:
Senate panel shares criticism of Bush budget (02/12)
Tribal leaders pressing Congress on funding (02/11)
Bush seeks $3 billion for Indian Health Service (02/03)
Daschle criticizes Bush on Indian health funds (02/03)
Daschle asks Bush to increase funding for IHS (12/18)
Democrats lay out plan for minority and Indian health (10/22)
Daschle: Improve Health Care in Indian Country (10/15)
Senate votes down health and trust measures (09/24)
Senate rejects one IHS funding measure, passes another (03/26)
Tribes told to explore health funding options (02/05)
Thompson releases new IHS budget (2/4)
Indian Country receives diabetes grants (12/11)
Congress approves $750M for Indian diabetes (11/21)

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