IHS suffers from long waits, inadequate funding

With funding levels meeting just 40 percent of the need, patients of the Indian Health Service can expect lengthy waits for health care, if they get it at all.

Ed Simons, a member of the Fort Peck Tribes of Montana, was told he needed immediate surgery following a construction accident. That was back in 1999.

"I haven't had it yet," Simons tells The Great Falls Tribune.

American Indians and Alaska Natives across the nation are stuck in similar predicaments. The IHS denies two out of three cases for specialized services. Only the most critical cases -- involving loss of life or limb -- receive care while the rest are put on a waiting list.

In Montana, about 5,170 people are on the list. "Indians in your state are waiting six years and that could take your whole life away in that amount of time ... and that's just the tip of the iceberg," said Stacy Bohlen, executive director of the National Indian Health Board.

The IHS has received steady boosts in funding. But the agency spends an average of $2,158 per person a year -- less than the national average of $5,921 and even lower than the $3,900 spent on prisoners.

"That is health care rationing, and it is an outrage in this country," Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, at a recent hearing.

Get the Story:
Indian Country suffers long waits for care (The Great Falls Tribune 7/29)
Life or limb: IHS patients endurea long, painful waits for care (The Great Falls Tribune 7/29)
Project to bring docs to Montana reservations (The Great Falls Tribune 7/29)

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