Lakota Country Times: Senate committee focuses on Indian Health Service

Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota), second from right, is seen here meeting with leaders of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in February 2016. Photo from Facebook

Lakota Eyes on IHS Hearing
What is S. 2953?
By Brandon Ecoffey
Lakota Country Times Editor

RAPID CITY -- Across Lakota Country all eyes are pointed towards Rapid City as a congressional delegation made up of representatives of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs prepares for a series of public meetings on improving the Indian Health Service.

On Friday, lawmakers including South Dakota Sen. John Thune, will host a field hearing that will include a discussion and overview of the proposed Indian Health Service Improvement Act of 2016.

The bill has been introduced into the Senate by Sen. John Barrasso and cosponsored by Thune and Sen. Mike Rounds. It is a Republican driven measure designed to improve care in Indian Country by making multiple policy changes within IHS.

The National Congress of American Indians has created a detailed summary of S.2953, which will:
• provide the Secretary with direct hire authority to avoid long delays in the traditional hiring process. It also requires tribal consultation prior to hiring for key leadership positions and requires a GAO report on staffing needs

• enhance recruitment and retention authorities for the Secretary, specifically allowing the Secretary to reward quality performance. It also allows the IHS to offer competitive pay and other hiring incentives similar to those authorities provided to the Veterans Affairs Administration.

• provide liability protections under the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) to medical professionals looking to volunteer at an IHS hospital or service unit. These provisions would eliminate regulatory burdens that hinder a professional’s ability to volunteer their services.

• enhance fiscal accountability by ensuring that reports and plans required under this act are completed in a timely manner. Failure to comply with the requirements will restrict the ability of the Secretary to give salary increases and bonuses to specified individuals. Additionally it requires the Secretary to prioritize spending related to patient care and provide spending reports to congressional committees of jurisdiction. The Secretary must also provide status reports to Congress on a quarterly basis.

• require all surveys, reports, and other materials generated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) relating to patient safety be posted on the CMS website. This section also requires the Inspector General of HHS to investigate patient deaths in which the IHS is alleged to be involved by act or omission.

The field hearing has been appropriately titled Improving Accountability and Quality of Care at the Indian Health Service through S. 2953 will feature an overview of the bill and will include an opportunity for community members and tribal leaders to provide

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The Committee will accept submissions from the public for inclusion in the formal hearing record for two weeks after the hearing date. Please address submissions to: Attn. Amanda Kelly, U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, 838 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510. Submissions may be sent by email to:, with the phrase “For the Record June 17, 2016” in the subject line.

The town hall will take place on Thursday, June 16, 2016 at the Rapid City Administration Building, 3rd Floor Meeting Room East & West located on 300 Sixth Street beginning at 2:00 p.m., MDT. The field hearing will take place on Friday, June 17, 2016, at the Central High School, Auditorium located on 433 Mt. Rushmore Rd and will start at 10:30 a.m., MDT.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notices:
Town Hall Meeting "Discussing S. 2953: Improving the Indian Health Service." (June 16, 2016)
Oversight/Legislative FIELD Hearing on "Improving Accountability and Quality of Care at the Indian Health Service though S. 2953." (June 17, 2016)

Federal Register Notice:
Notice of Tribal Consultation and Urban Confer Sessions on the State of the Great Plains Area Indian Health Service (June 3, 2016)

Government Accountability Office Report:
INDIAN HEALTH SERVICE: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of Patient Wait Times (April 29, 2016)

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Report:
In Critical Condition: The urgent need to reform the Indian Health Service’s Aberdeen Area (December 2010)

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