Indian Health Service

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Indian Health Service
Indian Health Service Logo.svg
IHS Logo
Operating Division overview
Formed1955; 65 years ago (1955)
Preceding Operating Division
JurisdictionU.S. federal government
Headquarters5600 Fishers Lane, North Bethesda, Maryland, U.S., 20857
(Rockville mailing address)
Annual budget$5.9 billion (2017)
Operating Division executive
  • Michael D. Weahkee, MHA, MBA, Acting Director
Child Operating Division
Websitewww.IHS.gov

The Indian Health Service (IHS) is an operating division (OPDIV) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). IHS is responsible for providing direct medical and public health services to members of federally-recognized Native American Tribes and Alaska Native people. IHS is the principal federal health care provider and health advocate for Indian people.<ref name=quick-look>"Quick Look". Newsroom. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref>

The IHS provides health care in 36 states to approximately 2.2 million out of 3.7 million American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN).<ref>"About IHS". www.ihs.gov. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref> As of April 2017, the IHS consisted of 26 hospitals, 59 health centers, and 32 health stations. Thirty-three urban Indian health projects supplement these facilities with a variety of health and referral services. Several tribes are actively involved in IHS program implementation.<ref name=":6">Champagne, Duane (2001). The Native North American ALmanac. Farmingtom Hills, MI: Gale Group. pp. 943–945. ISBN 0787616559.</ref> Many tribes also operate their own health systems independent of IHS.<ref name=quick-look />

Formation and mission[edit]

The provision of health services to members of federally recognized tribes grew out of the special government-to-government relationship between the federal government and Indian tribes. This relationship, established in 1787, is based on Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, and has been given form and substance by numerous treaties, laws, Supreme Court decisions, and Executive Orders.

Health services for the needs of American Indian and Alaska Natives in the United States were first provided through the Department of War from the early 1800s until the Office of Indian Affairs came into creation and took over the mission. After the mission again changed departmental authority to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare's Public Health Service in 1955, the IHS was established.<ref name=":6" />

The original priorities were stated to be

  1. Assemble a competent health staff
  2. Institute extensive curative treatment for the seriously ill
  3. Develop a full-scale prevention program that would reduce the excessive amount of illness and early deaths, especially for preventable diseases<ref name=":6" />

Employment[edit]

IHS employs approximately 2,650 nurses, 700 physicians, 700 pharmacists, 100 physician assistants and 300 dentists, as well as a variety of other health professionals such as nutritionists, registered medical-record administrators, therapists, community health representative aides, child health specialists, and environmental sanitationists.<ref name=quick-look /><ref name=":6" /> It is one of two federal agencies mandated to use Indian Preference in hiring. This law requires the agency to give preference to qualified Indian applicants before considering non-Indian candidates for employment, although exceptions apply.<ref>"Indian Preference". www.ihs.gov. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref>

IHS draws a large number of its professional employees from the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. This is a non-armed service branch of the uniformed services of the United States. Professional categories of IHS Commissioned corps officers include physicians, physician assistants, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, engineers, environmental health officers, and dietitians.<ref name=facts>"The Indian Health Service Fact Sheets". info.ihs.gov. Archived from the original on April 23, 2008. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref>

Many IHS jobs are in remote areas as well as its headquarters outside of Rockville, Maryland, and at Phoenix Indian Medical Center. In 2007, most IHS job openings were on the Navajo reservation. 71% of IHS employees are American Indian/Alaska Native.<ref name=facts />

The IHS also hires Native/non-Native American interns, who are referred to as "externs". Participants are paid based on industry standards, according to their experience levels and academic training, but are instead reimbursed for tuition and fees if the externship is used for an academic practical experience requirement.<ref>"IHS Extern Program". IHS Scholarship Program. Retrieved 2019-10-21.</ref>

Legislation[edit]

The Snyder Act of 1921 (23 U.S.C. 13) was the first formal legislative authority allowing health services to be provided to Native Americans.<ref name=":6" /><ref>"Legislation | About IHS". About IHS. Retrieved 2018-11-04.</ref> In 1957, the Indian Facilities Act authorized funding for community hospital construction. This authority was expanded in 1959 with the Indian Sanitation and Facilities Act, which also authorized construction and maintenance of sanitation facilities for Native American homes, communities, and lands.<ref name=":6" />

Indian Self-Determination Act of 1975 (Public Law 93-638)[edit]

ExpectMore.gov lists four rated areas of IHS: federally administered activities (moderately effective), healthcare-facilities construction (effective), resource- and patient-management systems (effective), and sanitation-facilities construction (moderately effective). All federally recognized Native American and Alaska Natives are entitled to health care. This health care is provided by the Indian Health Service, either through IHS-run hospitals and clinics or tribal contracts to provide healthcare services.<ref name=facts />

Indian Health Care Improvement Act of 1976 (Public Law 94-437)[edit]

The passing of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act of 1976 expanded the budget of the IHS to expand health services. The IHS was able to build and renovate medical facilities and focus on the construction of safe drinking water and sanitary disposal facilities. The law also developed programs designed to increase the number of Native American professionals and improve urban Natives' health care access.<ref name=":6" />

Other legislation[edit]

Title V of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act of 1976 and Title V of the Indian Health Care Amendment of 1980 have increased the access to healthcare Native Americans living in urban areas receive. The IHS now contracts with urban Indian health organizations in various US cities in order to expand outreach, referral services, and comprehensive healthcare services.<ref name=":6" />

Administration[edit]

The Indian Health Service is headed by a director; as of mid-2017 the agency has seen five different directors since the beginning of 2015.

The current acting director is Rear Admiral Michael D. Weahkee, a Zuni.<ref name=Weahkee>"RADM Michael D. Weahkee, acting director, Indian Health Service" (PDF). www.ihs.giv. June 2017. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref> Rear Admiral Chris Buchanan, a Seminole, served as acting director from January–June 2017, and presently serves as deputy director.<ref name=Weahkee /><ref>"Key Leaders | About IHS". Ihs.gov. January 1, 1970. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref> Prior to Buchanan, the office was headed by attorney Mary L. Smith (Cherokee).<ref>"Acting Director of the Indian Health Service: Who Is Mary L. Smith?". AllGov. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref> Yvette Roubideaux (Rosebud Sioux), was appointed director of IHS by President Obama in 2009; she was re-nominated for a second four-year term in 2013 but was not re-confirmed by the Senate.<ref>"Roubideaux, For Now, Forced Out of IHS Leadership - Indian Country Media Network". indiancountrymedianetwork.com.</ref> After she stepped down in 2015, she was briefly replaced by Robert McSwain (Mono).<ref>"Robert G. McSwain, M.P.A., Director, Office of Management Services, Indian Health Service" (PDF). www.ihs.gov. March 2016. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref> Roubideaux was also preceded by McSwain, who had served as director for eight months.<ref>"New IHS director faced difficult year - Indian Country Media Network". indiancountrymedianetwork.com.</ref> Trump's nominee for the post, Robert M. Weaver, withdrew from consideration after questions arose about his resume.

Reporting to the director are a chief medical officer (Michael Toedt, as of 2018),<ref>"Native American Overdose Deaths Surge Since Opioid Epidemic". Drug Discovery & Development. Associated Press. March 13, 2018. Retrieved March 13, 2018.</ref> deputy directors (Operations, Government Affairs, Management, and Quality), and Offices for Tribal Liaison, Urban Health, and Contracting. Twelve regional area offices each coordinate infrastructure and programs in a section of the United States.<ref>"Indian Health Service chart" (PDF). www.ihs.gov. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref>

A 2010 report by Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., found that the Aberdeen Area of the IHS is in a "chronic state of crisis".<ref>"Dorgan: investigation shows indian health service in aberdeen area is in a "chronic state of crisis"". www.indian.senate.gov. Archived from the original on 3 February 2011. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref> "Serious management problems and a lack of oversight of this region have adversely affected the access and quality of health care provided to Native Americans in the Aberdeen Area, which serves 18 tribes in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa," according to the report.

In July 2017, Director Weahkee was severely chastised during the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee budget hearings by Senator Jon Tester [D Montana].<ref>"Tester questions acting Indian Health Service director about proposed budget". www.ktvq.com. MTN News. July 12, 2017. Archived from the original on October 17, 2017. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref> Weahkee refused to answer repeated direct questions about whether the 2018 IHS budget proposal was adequate to fulfill the Service's remit. In the December 11, 2019 Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing on the nomination of Weahkee as Director of the Indian Health Service, Sen. Tester, a former chairman and former vice chairman of the committee, told Weahkee, ""I think you're going to get confirmed ... And you should get confirmed." <ref>https://www.indianz.com/News/2019/12/12/trumps-nominee-for-indian-health-service.asp</ref>

IHS areas[edit]

A network of twelve regional offices oversee clinical operations for individual facilities and funds. As of 2010, the federally operated sites included twenty-eight hospitals and eighty-nine outpatient facilities.<ref>Sequist, T. D.; Cullen, T.; Acton, K. J. (2011). "Indian Health Service Innovations Have Helped Reduce Health Disparities Affecting American Indian And Alaska Native People". Health Affairs. 30 (10): 1965–1973. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0630. PMID 21976341.</ref>

Graphic from the Government Accountability Office showing the patient populations per service area for the year 2014

Services and Benefits[edit]

The IHS provides a variety of health services in outpatient and inpatient settings, with benefits including pharmacy, dental, behavioral health, immunizations, pediatrics, physical rehabilitation, and optometry.<ref name=":0">"Health Care for Patients". www.ihs.gov. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref> A more extensive list can be found at the official IHS website, and it is recommended for patients to contact their particular IHS facility to confirm services provided since benefits may differ by location.<ref name=":0" />

Eligibility[edit]

To qualify for health benefits from the IHS, individuals must be of American Indian and/or Alaska Native descent and be a part of an Indian community serviced by IHS. Individuals must be able to provide evidence such as membership in a federally-recognized tribe, residence on tax-exempt land, or active participation in tribal affairs. Federally-recognized tribes are annually defined by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Non-Indians can also receive care if they are the child of an eligible Indian, the spouse (including same-sex spouses) of an eligible Indian, or a non-Indian women pregnant with an eligible Indian’s child. The exact policy can be found in the IHS Indian Health Manual (IHM).<ref>"Indian Health Manual". Indian Health Services. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref>

To apply for benefits through the IHS, individuals can enroll through the patient registration office of their local IHS facility. Individuals should be prepared to show proof of enrollment in a federally recognized tribe.<ref>"Frequently Asked Questions". Indian Health Services. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref>

Direct Care versus Purchased/Referred Care (PRC)[edit]

"Direct Care" refers to medical and dental care that American Indians and Alaska Natives receive at an IHS or tribal medical facility.<ref name=":1">"Purchased/Referred Care". www.ihs.gov. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref><ref name=":2">"Purchased/Referred Care (PRC) for Patients". www.ihs.gov. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref> If patients are referred to a non-IHS/tribal medical facility, there is the option to request for coverage via the IHS "Purchased/Referred Care (PRC) Program".<ref name=":1" /><ref name=":2" /> Due to limited funds from U.S. Congress, referrals through PRC are not guaranteed coverage.<ref name=":1" /><ref name=":2" /><ref name=":3">"Frequently Asked Questions for Patients". www.ihs.gov. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref> Authorization of these payments are determined through several factors, including confirmation of AI/AN tribal affiliation, medical priority, and funding availability.<ref name=":1" /><ref name=":2" /><ref name=":3" />

IHS National Core Formulary[edit]

The IHS National Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee (NPTC) is composed of administrative leaders and clinical professionals, including pharmacists and physicians, who regulate the IHS National Core Formulary (NCF) to reflect current clinical practices and literature.<ref name=nptc>"National Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committee". www.ihs.gov. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref> The NCF is reviewed every quarter and revised as needed based on arising health needs within the Native American communities, pharmacoeconomic analyses, recent guidelines, national contracts, and clinician advice.<ref name=nptc /> Fibric acid derivatives and niacin extended release were removed from the formulary in February 2017,<ref name=nptc /> but there were no changes made to the NCF during the May 2017 meeting.<ref>"Indian Health Service National Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee NPTC Spring Meeting Update" (PDF). Indian Health Services. May 2017.</ref> The complete National Core Formulary can be found on the IHS website.<ref name=nptc />

Necessity for hepatitis C coverage[edit]

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey provides national prevalence data for hepatitis C but excludes several high risk populations including federal prisoners, homeless individuals and over one million Native Americans residing on reservations.<ref name=":4">Holmberg, Scott (16 May 2013). "Hepatitis C in the United States". The New England Journal of Medicine. 368 (20): 1859–1861. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1302973. PMC 5672915. PMID 23675657.</ref> To address this concern, in 2012 IHS implemented a nationwide hepatitis C virus (HCV) antibody testing program for persons born between 1945 and 1965. This resulted in a fourfold increase in the number of patients screened.<ref name="Birth Cohort Testing">Bragg, Reiley (13 May 2016). "Birth Cohort Testing for Hepatitis C Virus — Indian Health Service 2012–2015". Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 65 (18): 467–469. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6518a3. PMID 27171026.</ref> IHS facilities of the Southwest reported the largest gains in number of patients tested and the percentage of eligible patients that received testing.<ref name="Birth Cohort Testing" /> Currently, the incidence rate of acute hepatitis C in Native Americans is higher in comparison to any other racial/ethnic group (1.32 cases per 100,000).<ref>"American Indians and Alaska Natives". www.cdc.gov. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref> Additionally, Native Americans have the highest rate of hepatitis C related deaths (12.95% in 2015) in comparison to any other racial/ethnic group.<ref>"U.S. 2014 Surveillance Data for Viral Hepatitis | Statistics & Surveillance | Division of Viral Hepatitis | CDC". www.cdc.gov. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref>

Despite this prevalent need, IHS currently does not include any new direct acting anti-retroviral (DAA) hepatitis C medications on its National Core Formulary.<ref>"National Core Formulary | National Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committee". www.ihs.gov. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref>[original research?] New DAA drugs provide a cure to hepatitis C in most cases but are costly.<ref>Smith-Palmer, Jayne; Cerri, Karin; Valentine, William (2015-01-17). "Achieving sustained virologic response in hepatitis C: a systematic review of the clinical, economic and quality of life benefits". BMC Infectious Diseases. 15: 19. doi:10.1186/s12879-015-0748-8. ISSN 1471-2334. PMC 4299677. PMID 25596623.</ref> Due to their lack in funding and quality of care, the IHS has not been able to effectively combat the Native American HCV issue, unlike the Veterans Affairs system, which was able to eradicate much of the disease through adequate resources from the federal government.[citation needed]

Tribal Self Determination[edit]

Important Self Determination Legislation[edit]

In 1954, the Indian Health Transfer Act included language that recognizing tribal sovereignty and the Act additionally "afforded a degree of tribal self-determination in health policy decision-making."<ref name=":02">Warne, Donald; Frizzell, Linda Bane (June 2014). "American Indian Health Policy: Historical Trends and Contemporary Issues". American Journal of Public Health. 104 (S3): S263–S267. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301682. ISSN 0090-0036. PMC 4035886. PMID 24754649.</ref> The Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA) allows for tribes to request self-determination contracts with the Secretaries of Interior and Health and Human Services. The tribes take over IHS activities and services through an avenue called ‘638 contracts’ through which tribes receive the IHS funds that would have been used for IHS health services and instead manage and use this money for the administration of health services outside of the IHS.<ref name=":02" />

Self Determination Success and Concerns[edit]

The benefits and drawbacks of Tribal Self Determination have been widely debated. Many tribes have successfully implemented elements of health-related Self Determination. An example is the Cherokee Indian Hospital in North Carolina. This community-based hospital, funded in part by the tribe's casino revenues, is guided by four core principles: “The one who helps you from the heart,” “A state of peace and balance,” “it belongs to you” and “Like family to me” “He, she, they, are like my own family”.<ref>"Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority". Retrieved 2019-12-03.</ref> The hospital is based on the adoption of an Alaska Native model of healthcare called the “Nuka System of Care,” a framework that focuses on patient-centered, self-determined health service delivery that heavily relies on Patient participation.

The Nuka System of Care was developed by the Southcentral Foundation in 1982, a non-profit healthcare organization that is owned and composed of Alaska Natives.<ref name=":12">Gottlieb, Katherine (2013-01-31). "The Nuka System of Care: improving health through ownership and relationships". International Journal of Circumpolar Health. 72 (1): 21118. doi:10.3402/ijch.v72i0.21118. ISSN 2242-3982. PMC 3752290. PMID 23984269.</ref> The Nuka System’s vision is “A Native community that enjoys physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness”.<ref name=":12" /> Every Alaska Native in the health system is a “customer-owner” of the system and participates as a self-determined individual who has a say in the decision-making processes and access to an intimate, integrated, long-term care team. When a customer-owner seeks care, their primary care doctor’s foremost responsibility is to build a strong and lasting relationship with the beneficiary, and customer-owners have various options through which they can give input and participate in decisions about their health. These options include surveys, focus groups, special events and committees.<ref name=":12" /> The board is made up entirely of Alaska Natives who helped design the system and actively participate in running it effectively.<ref name=":12" /> Following the implementation of the Nuka System of Care in Alaska Native health, successes in improved standards of care have been achieved, such as increases in the number of Alaska Natives with a primary care provider, in childhood immunization rates, and customers satisfaction in regard to respect of culture and traditions. In addition, decreases in wait times for appointments, wait lists, emergency department and urgent care visits, and staff turnover have been reported.<ref name=":12" /> The North Carolina Cherokee Indian Hospital in 2012 as well as other tribes have implemented the Nuka System approach when planning their new or revamped health centers and systems.

Some tribes are less optimistic about the role of Self Determination in Indian healthcare or may face barriers to success. Tribes have expressed concern that the 638 contracting and compacting could lead to “termination by appropriation,” the fear that if tribes take over the responsibility of managing healthcare programs and leave the federal government with only the job of funding these programs, then the federal government could easily “deny any further responsibility for the tribes, and cut funding”.<ref name=":22">https://www.kff.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/legal-and-historical-roots-of-health-care-for-american-indians-and-alaska-natives-in-the-united-states.pdf</ref> The fear of potential termination has led some tribes to refuse to participate in Self Determination contracting without a clear resolution of this issue.<ref name=":32">"Office of Community Services: Division of Tribal Services: Fact Sheets". doi:10.1037/e312112004-001. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)</ref> Some tribes also renounce Self Determination and contracting because of the chronic underfunding of IHS programs. They do not see any benefit in being handed the responsibility of a “sinking ship”<ref name=":22" /> due to the lack of a satisfactory budget for IHS services. Other tribes face various barriers to successful Self Determination. Small tribes lacking in administrative capabilities, geographically-isolated tribes with transportation and recruitment issues, and tribes with funding issues may find it much harder to contract with the IHS and begin self-determination.<ref name=":32" /> Poverty and a lack of resources can thus make Self Determination difficult.

Budget[edit]

The IHS receives funding as allocated by the United States Congress and is not an entitlement program, insurance program, or established benefit program.<ref>"Frequently Asked Questions for Patients". www.ihs.gov. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref>

The 2017 United States federal budget includes $5.1 billion for the IHS to support and expand the provision of health care services and public health programs for American Indians and Alaska Natives. The proposed 2018 budget proposes to reduce IHS spending by more than $300 million.<ref>Udall, Tom (July 12, 2017). "Administration's Indian Health Service Budget 'Cuts The Legs Out' From Native Health Care System". krwg.org. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref>

This covers the provision of health benefits to 2.5 million Native Americans and Alaskan Natives for a recent average cost per patient of less than $3,000, far less than the average cost of health care nationally ($7,700), or for the other major federal health programs Medicaid ($6,200) or Medicare ($12,000).<ref>"Health care: Budget requests" (PDF). Ncai.org. 2016. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref>

Current issues[edit]

Life expectancy for Indians is approximately 4.5 years less than the general population of the United States (73.7 years versus 78.1 years).<ref name=quick-look />

In 2013, the IHS experienced funding cuts of $800 million, representing a substantial percentage of its budget.<ref name="ICT032713">Gale Courey Toensing (March 27, 2013). "Sequestration Grounds Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs". Indian Country Today. Retrieved 2013-03-28.</ref><ref name="NYT032013">Editorial Board (March 20, 2013). "The Sequester Hits the Reservation" (Editorial). The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-03-28.</ref> Over the past twenty years, the gap between spending on federally recognized American Indian/Alaska Natives and spending on Medicare beneficiaries has grown eightfold.<ref>Malerba, Marilynn (November 2013). "The Effects of Sequestration on Indian Health". Hastings Center Report. 43 (6): 17–21. doi:10.1002/hast.229. ISSN 0093-0334. PMID 24249470.</ref> This inequity has a large impact on service rationing, health disparities and life expectancy, and can lead to preventive services being neglected. Other issues that have been highlighted as challenges to improving health outcomes are social inequities such as poverty and unemployment, cross-cultural communication barriers, and limited access to care.<ref>Sequist, Thomas D.; Cullen, Theresa; Acton, Kelly J. (October 2011). "Indian Health Service Innovations Have Helped Reduce Health Disparities Affecting American Indian And Alaska Native People". Health Affairs. 30 (10): 1965–1973. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0630. ISSN 0278-2715. PMID 21976341.</ref>

Data from the 2014 National Emergency Department Inventory survey showed that only 85% of the 34 IHS respondents had continuous physician coverage.<ref name=":5">Bernard, Kenneth; Hasegawa, Kohei; Sullivan, Ashley; Camargo, Carlos (2017). "A Profile of Indian Health Service Emergency Departments". Annals of Emergency Medicine. 69 (6): 705–710.e4. doi:10.1016/j.annemergmed.2016.11.031. PMID 28110985.</ref> Of these 34 sites only 4 sites utilized telemedicine<ref name=":5" /> while a median of just 13% of physicians were board certified in emergency medicine.<ref name=":5" /> The majority of IHS emergency department from the survey reported operating at or over capacity.<ref name=":5" />

Since its beginnings in 1955, the IHS has been criticized by those it serves and by public officials.<ref>Fraser, Jayme. "Indian Health Service care criticized as 'genocidal' despite improvement efforts". missoulian.com. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref><ref>"Sickly service". The Lawton Constitution. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref><ref>"The Indian Health Service Paradox". Kaiser Health News. 16 September 2009. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref><ref>"A review of the quality of health care for American Indians and Alaska natives" (PDF). www.commonwealthfund.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-05-31. Retrieved 2017-11-01.</ref>

Native Americans who are not of a federally-recognized tribe or who live in urban areas have trouble accessing the services of the IHS.<ref name=":6" />

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]