March 13, 2008

Senate Overwhelmingly Passes $1 Billion Increase for Indian Health Care

The United States Senate Thursday overwhelmingly passed an amendment authored by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to increase funding for Indian Health Care by $1 billion. The final vote was 69 to 30.
This increase is another step forward for Indian health care in recent weeks but still leaves a long way to go.
“The Senate today recognized the need to fund Indian health care and I am very pleased that we’ve taken the first step toward meeting our obligations to First Americans. My top priority as Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee has been to improve Indian health care, first by passing the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which we did overwhelmingly in February. Now we need to fund it,” Dorgan said.
The funding means increases for both Indian health care services, such as hospital services and mental health care, and facilities, which are currently crumbling across the country. There is a nearly $3 billion backlog in construction or repair of Native American health facilities.
The increase will also strengthen contract health services, which allows the Indian Health Service (IHS) and tribal health facilities to purchase medical care and urgent health care services when they can’t provide it. It is common in Indian Country to hear “don’t get sick after June” because IHS funding has usually run out by then, if not earlier.
“Standing up and doing the right thing for Native Americans has been a long time coming. We promised to provide their health care and we haven’t come close to keeping that promise. We started today,” Dorgan said. “When over $800 million is spent in Iraq for health care projects, it’s high time to start spending some money here at home.”
By Indian Health Service’s own admission it is underfunded by at least 40 percent or roughly $2 billion. The funding passed today will only cut the deficit in half.