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Daschle asks Bush to increase funding for IHS
Thursday, December 18, 2003

Undeterred in his push to increase funding for the Indian Health Service (IHS), Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) on Wednesday urged President George W. Bush to boost the agency's budget to $5.54 billion.

In a letter, the Senate minority leader said the U.S. "made a commitment to provide for the health care needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives." "Unfortunately, we are failing to honor this commitment," he wrote.

In calling for the $5.54 billion request, Daschle said it wasn't nearly enough to cover Indian Country's needs. "To provide clinical services to all eligible Native Americans, the IHS would require $9.079 billion," he told Bush.

"While our ultimate goal should be full funding, our immediate and minimum goal must be to serve those who currently depend on the IHS for their care," he added.

Three times this year, Daschle tried to increase the IHS budget for fiscal year 2004, which started in October. In March, he proposed an amendment to double the budget by $2.9 billion but it was voted down by a party-line vote of 48 to 51.

Daschle tried again in September, when the Senate was considering the Department of Interior's appropriations bill, which funds the IHS. He lost two votes, one to add $292 million and another to add $79 million to the budget. The roll call, again, fell largely along party lines.

Now that the White House is finalizing its budget proposal for 2005, Daschle renewed his campaign. He said the federal government spends $3,800 on health care per prisoner but only $1,900 for Native Americans.

"This severe funding shortfall means Indians are routinely denied care that most of us take for granted and, in many cases, call essential," he said in his letter.

A few notable Republicans, including Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colo.), John McCain (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Ted Stevens (Alaska), have backed Daschle's efforts, for the most part. They helped raise the IHS budget for the current year to a little over $3 billion.

The Republican who sits on the subcommittee that controls the Interior's budget doesn't think Congress has ignored Indian Country. "Over the last five years, well over $1 billion in new money has been provided in order to improve health care within our Native American community," Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) said in September. "Within the extremely limited resources . . . we've been responsive to the needs of the Native Americans."

The 2005 budget is expected to be announced by the Bush administration this coming February. The 2004 proposal contained increases for diabetes treatment, contract health services and sanitation improvement.

The diabetes money, however, was not a Bush initiative. Congress, though the Special Diabetes Program, authorized $750 million over five years to help tribes battle a disease that affects Native Americans at extremely high rates.

Relevant Documents:
Daschle Letter to Bush on Indian Health Service (December 17, 2003)

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

Related Stories:
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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