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House panel looks at Indian Health Service infrastructure needs

The Cherokee Nation broke ground on a new health facility next to the 30-year-old W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, on February 17, 2017. Photo: Anadisgoi

Aging Indian Health Service facilities are getting a long-overdue look on Capitol Hill this week.

According to the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, IHS hospitals are an average of 40 years old. That's triple the age of most hospitals in the United States.

Bringing the facilities up to date would cost an estimated $14.5 billion, committee staff wrote in a hearing memo that described the average age of the IHS facilities as "abysmal." But Indian Country will never see that goal fulfilled at current funding rates.

"It is estimated that at the current appropriations rate and existing replacement rate, a new 2016 facility would not be replaced for 400 years," the memo stated, citing a recent IHS facilities needs assessment that outlined the daunting task.

According to committee staff, IHS could address the backlog by taking advantage of a provision in the Indian Health Care Improvement Act that addresses how funds are distributed for facilities. Ironically, the landmark law is on the chopping block as Republicans and President Donald Trump push to repeal the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

"Despite funding increases by Congress, the Federal Government still spends just $35 per capita on IHS facilities that serve Native people, compared to $374 per capita for the nation as a whole," the memo, which was written by Republican staff, reads.

The hearing, which is the subcommittee's first of the 115th Congress, takes place on Thursday at 10am in Room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building. The witness list follows:
Honorable Herman G. Honanie
Hopi Tribe
Kykotsmovi, AZ

Mr. Andy Joseph Jr.
Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board
Member, Colville Business Council
Nespelem, WA

Ms. Victoria Kitcheyan
Great Plains Area Representative
National Indian Health Board
Washington, DC

Honorable Brian Cladoosby
National Congress of American Indians
Washington, DC

Mr. Andy Teuber
Board Chair and President
Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium
Anchorage, AK

Mr. Nikolao Pula
Acting Assistant Secretary
Office of Insular Affairs
U.S. Department of the Interior
Washington, DC

House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Notice:
Improving and Expanding Infrastructure in Tribal and Insular Communities (March 9, 2017)

Government Accountability Office Report:
Improving Federal Management of Programs that Serve Tribes and Their Members (February 15, 2017)

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