IHCIA reauthorization exchange on Senate floor

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada), the majority leader, discussed the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

Dorgan said he wanted to attach the IHCIA to a children's health bill. But he agreed to hold off when Reid committed to bringing the measure to the floor after it is approved by the Senate Finance Committee.

The following is their exchange:
Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, I know others are waiting to begin morning business. Let me first add my hope with the majority leader that we will be able to move through these bills with some expeditious action this week. There has been so much delay in the Chamber. I know the majority leader wishes to move through and get these things done. I hope we can do that.

I want to mention to the Senator from Nevada that I have offered to the children's health insurance bill the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. I did that yesterday as an amendment. There are 3 million children benefitted by the children's health insurance bill, but there are 2 million American Indians who are subject to full-scale health care rationing. It is unbelievable what is happening.

We have had 11 separate bills introduced in the Congress since the authorization for the Indian Health Care Improvement Act expired some years ago, and none of them have moved. So I offered the amendment because I felt I had to do it to the Children's Health Insurance Program that is on the floor.

I indicated yesterday, however, in response to Senator Baucus, who said that he would mark up on September 12 in the Finance Committee the portions of the bill relevant to them, I indicated I would withdraw my amendment from the children's health bill if I could get a commitment to get the Indian health care bill to the floor of the Senate. I have already marked up the Indian health bill in the Indian Affairs Committee, my committee.

This is urgent. We have a problem with respect to rationing of health care with American Indians. I ask my colleague--and I know we have visited about it, and I know how strongly he supports American Indians and health care for them--can we have a commitment to get the Indian health bill to the floor of the Senate? If we can do that, I will withdraw my amendment here in anticipation of having that debate on Indian health in the next couple of months in the Senate.

Mr. REID. Mr. President, I say to my friend, the distinguished chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, a tireless advocate for Native Americans his entire career, I have 22 different tribal organizations in the State of Nevada. You say ``rationing'' health care. I think that is even being too generous because there is no health care rationed, in many instances, in Nevada. We have gone from having two wonderful hospitals for Native Americans and now we have one that is closed. The other they don't use for acute care. It is a situation that, for our country, should be an embarrassment. It is an embarrassment. People just don't know how bad it is.

I say to my friend, through the Chair, that we are going to do this bill this year. If it is reported out of the Finance Committee, we will find a way to bring it to the floor. It is the right thing to do. We talk about people who don't have advocates for them. My tribal organizations in Nevada don't have people back here advocating for them. We need to advocate for them. I have to do that, especially on this issue of health care. They deserve the basic minimum; they deserve the ability to have some kind of health care. It is in such a state now that I, frankly, don't know what to tell the tribal organizations when they come to see me. There has been more than a decade waiting to do something about this.

So I support my friend from North Dakota and will do everything I can to move this forward and make a commitment that we will do something this session of Congress.

Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, that commitment of the majority leader is welcome. I observe this: There are few places in this country where someone having a heart attack would be wheeled into an emergency room with a piece of paper attached to their thigh by masking tape that says:

To the hospital: By the way, if you admit this woman, understand you are on your own because contract health care from the Indian Health Service has run out.

Very few places in this country will you see that. It describes how unbelievably urgent it is to pass this bill. The commitment from the majority leader is very welcome. It reflects his long-term commitment to deal with Indian issues.

The commitment from Senator Baucus to mark up his portion of the bill on September 12 is welcome. Therefore, when we are back on the children's health bill, I will withdraw my amendment as a result of the commitment to move it separately.

I yield the floor.
In response, National Congress of American Indians President Joe Garcia praised Reid for committing to passage of the bill. "We are almost there," Garcia said.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana) plans to hold a final markup on S.1200 on September 12.

Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments:
H.R.1328 | S.1200

Relevant Documents:
Letter to President Bush | Letter to Alberto Gonzales | DOJ White Paper

Relevant Links:
Indian Health Service - http://www.ihs.gov
National Indian Health Board - http://www.nihb.org

Related Stories:
Editorial: Indian health care a trust responsibility (7/31)
IHS suffers from long waits, inadequate funding (7/30)
White House changed testimony on trust (7/27)
IHS slow to resolve problems under Grim (7/26)
Senate confirmation hearing for Dr. Grim of IHS (7/26)
Pill 'epidemic' strikes reservations in Montana (7/23)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee renews focus (7/20)
Direct Service Tribes discuss IHS in Denver (06/27)
Emergency room at IHS facility fails inspection (05/09)
Indian Health Care Act introduced in Senate (05/02)
California tribes seek bigger share of health funding (5/1)
Belcourt: Indian Country takes path of healthy living (4/30)
House committee approves Indian health care bill (4/26)
Montana and Wyoming tribes host health conference (04/06)
Montana lawmaker presses for health care funding (4/5)
Opinion: U.S. failing to provide Indian health care (3/22)
Kara Briggs: The fight to reauthorize IHCIA (3/21)
Urban Indians hurt by IHS policy in Montana (3/20)
Health care push continues at House hearing (3/19)
DOJ's Indian white paper a political whodunit (3/14)
House hearing on Indian Health Care Improvement (3/14)
Urban Indians under attack over health care (3/12)
Fireworks at Indian health care hearing (3/9)
Senate hearing on Indian Health reauthorization (3/8)
Urban Indians in New Mexico feel left out on health (3/8)
Some urban Indians denied care at request of IHS (3/8)
Indian Health Care Act introduced in House (3/7)
Hearings on Indian Health Care Improvement Act (3/5)
Democrats promise action at USET conference (2/14)
Harjo: GOP calls Indian health care 'race-based' (2/12)
Tribes forced to ration funds for health services (2/2)
Interview: Inadequate health care in Indian Country (01/16)
Joint hearing on Indian health care act postponed (11/14)
Final push for health care bill in 109th Congress (11/13)
White House hit over delays in health care and Cobell (10/05)
Still no Indian Health Care Improvement Act (09/22)
New Standard: U.S. failing to deliver health care (7/18)
Senate panel advances Indian health care measure (10/28)
Senate committee takes up slate of Indian bills (10/27)
Hearing on Indian Health Care Improvement Act (07/13)
Oklahoma senator loses Indian health care vote (06/29)