Opinion: Indian Health Service needs reform

"On the Crow Indian Reservation this month, U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., led a hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs committee, addressing the severe lack of federal funds and management for the Indian Health Service. IHS officials, including acting chief medical officer Dr. Charles North, and tribal members testified to the shortage of qualified health professionals, closure of health facilities and cancellation of programs midway through the fiscal year.

A bipartisan collection of senators primarily from the Senate Indian Affairs Committee are co-sponsoring legislation that would foster improvement within IHS. These changes would include, for example, outreach and enrollment for those eligible for public coverage under programs like SCHIP; cancer screenings; school health programs; and the maintenance and improvement of facilities.

IHS needs reform. IHS serves approximately 1.5 million of the 3.1 million American Indian and Alaska Natives from roughly 560 federally recognized tribes. In addition to underfunded facilities, death and disease rates among natives continue to exceed those of the general public - with diabetes and suicide rates double those of white Americans. These and conditions such as alcoholism, depression and heart disease plague reservation communities.

Inadequacies in coverage, care and facilities are so great that the Census Bureau's current population survey does not consider American Indian and Alaska Natives "covered" under IHS - more than a third of American Indian and Alaska Natives went without suitable coverage in 2004. This makes them part of the nearly 47 million Americans without health insurance. In 2004, only 15.5 percent of native adults received medical treatment of any kind. Lack of enrollment in public programs and inadequate services contribute to this predicament. Having access to facilities is not enough."

Get the Story:
Hannah Graff: Indian Health Service reforms long overdue (The Billings Gazette 8/27)

Relevant Links:
Indian Health Service - http://www.ihs.gov

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