May 19, 2016

Barrasso and Thune Introduce Bill to Reform the Indian Health Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) introduced S. 2953, the Indian Health Service Accountability Act of 2016.  
Persistent failures by the Indian Health Service (IHS) to provide tribal citizens access to safe, quality health care have led to multiple innocent patient deaths and the suffering of patients, families, and whole communities. The act would address this by increasing transparency and accountability at the IHS to improve patient safety and care. 
“A patient-centered culture change at the Indian Health Service is long-overdue,” said Chairman Barrasso. “This bill is an important first step toward ensuring that tribal members receive proper healthcare and that there is transparency and accountability from Washington. We have heard appalling testimonies of the failures at IHS that are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. We must reform IHS to guarantee that all of Indian Country is receiving high quality medical care. ”
“After years of inaction at IHS, there are still more questions than answers for the tribal members who depend on the agency for their health care needs,” said Thune. “IHS has failed – both in its treaty obligation and moral duty – to provide the quality care that Native Americans across the Great Plains area, including South Dakota, deserve. Sen. Barrasso and I have spent months working together on a comprehensive approach to address the IHS crisis, and I’m grateful for his commitment to tackling this important issue. My message to our tribal citizens is clear: IHS leaders must be held accountable, and this legislation would put us in a much better position to do so. I look forward to continuing to work with Sen. Barrasso and the delegations from our region to improve IHS.”
The act will improve transparency and accountability at the IHS by:
·     Expanding removal and discipline authorities for problem employees at the agency;
·     Providing the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with direct hiring and other authorities to avoid long delays in the traditional hiring process;
·     Requiring tribal consultation prior to hiring area directors, hospital CEOs and other key leadership positions;
·     Commissioning Government Accountability Office reports on staffing and professional housing needs;
·     Improving protections for employees who report violations of patient safety requirements;
·     Mandating that the secretary of HHS provide timely IHS spending reports to Congress; and
·     Ensuring the Inspector General of HHS investigates all patient deaths in which the IHS is alleged to be involved by act or omission.
The act also addresses staff recruitment and retention shortfalls at IHS by:
·     Addressing gaps in IHS personnel by giving the secretary of HHS flexibility to create competitive pay scales and provide temporary housing assistance for medical professionals;
·     Improving patient-provider relationships and continuity of care by providing incentives to employees; and
·     Giving the secretary of HHS the ability to reward employees for good performance and finding innovative ways to improve patient care, promote patient safety, and eliminate fraud, waste, and abuse.
On February 3, 2016, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing on “Reexamining the Substandard Quality of Indian Health Care in the Great Plains.”
On February 3, 2016, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a listening session on “Putting Patients First: Addressing Indian Country’s Critical Concerns Regarding IHS.”
The Indian Health Service Accountability Act of 2016 is based primarily on feedback and information received by the Committee during the hearing and listening session. The Committee continues to gather information from Indian Country for ideas on how to improve the legislation.