Lakota Country Times: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs lands in South Dakota

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, seen here in Washington, D.C., on February 3, 2016, is hosting a town hall on June 16, 2016, and a field hearing on June 17, 2016, in Rapid City, South Dakota. Photo by Indianz.Com

IHS Focus Of Congressional Field Hearing
By Brandon Ecoffey
Lakota Country Times Editor

RAPID CITY -- For several decades lawmakers in the nation's Capitol have attempted to come to agreement on legislation that would provide a fix to healthcare in Indian Country. This week members of the Senate's Indian Affairs Committee will join South Dakota Sen. John Thune in Rapid City for an oversight hearing on the many issues surrounding healthcare in Indian Country.

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is the committee of congress that has jurisdiction over issues pertaining to American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native peoples and is responsible for creating legislation affecting these populations. This body's role is to create policies that address everything from Indian education, economic development, land management, trust responsibilities, health care, to claims against the United States.

This week they will convene in Rapid City to hear from tribal leaders and tribal citizens about the care they have received at IHS facilities. The committee itself is made up of eight republicans including; John Barrasso (WY), John McCain (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK), John Hoeven (ND), James Lankford (OK), Steve Daines (MT), Michael Crapo (ID), Jerry Moran (KS), and six democrats; Jon Tester (MT), Maria Cantwell (WA), Tom Udall (AZ), Al Franken (MN), Brian Schatz (HI), Heidi Heitkamp (ND). Members of the committee are expected to be joined in Rapid City by South Dakota senators John Thune and Mike Rounds at the events.

On Thursday and Friday, the congressional delegation will hold a town-hall style meeting and an oversight hearing on the newly introduced Indian Health Service Accountability Act of 2016. During the two hearings community members and tribal leaders are encouraged to provide official testimony to the members of congress about their experiences with IHS. who will be discussing the new bill and their views on healthcare in Indian Country.

In 2010, the Committee on Indian Affairs of the Senate held an oversight hearing entitled “In Critical Condition: The Urgent Need to Reform Indian Health Service’s Aberdeen Area”, during which members of the Committee listened to testimony detailing an investigation led by a former Chairman of the Committee, Byron Dorgan, including his report on the Indian Health Service. The investigation and report from Dorgan was a watershed moment as much of the deficiencies within IHS were fully exposed and examined for the first time.

The Dorgan Report found evidence showing the lack of quality of care at Indian Health Service facilities in the Great Plains Area (previously referred to as the “Aberdeen Area”), which is comprised of South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa.

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Just recently several IHS hospitals across the Great Plains region were recently reprimanded by the Center for Medicaid/Medicare after multiple violations of standards of care were found by inspectors. Most Indian Health Service hospitals are not provided with full funding by the federal government and thus rely on the ability to bill third-party insurers to make up the difference.

If problems at a certain facility are not corrected these hospitals can have their ability to bill for Medicaid and Medicare revoked by CMS. If this occurs a hospital is severely limited in its ability to generate revenue and would struggle to provide sufficient care to its patients.

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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