Elizabeth Doney Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
More than 200 people were present to hear testimony on the issues affecting health care for Indian Country at the Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on Aug. 15 at Crow Agency. “For some time now, the United States has not funded the true need of health services for American Indian/Alaskan Native people," Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy of Rocky Boy said in his testimony at the committee hearing, "The medical inflationary rate over the past ten years has averaged 11 percent. The average increase for the Indian Health Service health services accounts over this same period has been only 4 percent. This means that IHS/Tribal/Urban Indian health programs are forced to absorb the mandatory costs of inflation, population growth, and pay cost increases by cutting health care services.” U. S. Senators Jon Tester and Bryon Dorgan and staff, the chairman for the Senate Committe on Indian Affairs, were joined by tribal leaders, Indian Health Service providers and tribal health program representatives to discuss the various issues surrounding health care funding needs on reservations. “In the past, the senators have been very well aware of the issues. They raised some good questions at this hearing. It takes 60 members of the senate to pass laws. At least we got two. We’re giving Tester the chance to do what he’s got to do. I am confident that he’s going to succeed,” Windy Boy said in an interview Friday. “The funding was at $777 million in 1984. Today it’s $2.6 billion. They need a lot more... they need to fund it at the inflationary rate... if they do, it would be more like 7.2 billion.” “We heard about some of the problems in health care probably one of the biggest problems in Indian Country,” Sen. Tester said Friday about the hearing at the Crow Agency. “Hopefully we can help make some amendments here and there and hopefully help make services more accessible.” Tester said the Senate will go back to the issue in September when the Indian Health Care Improvement Act should be headed to the Finance Committee, the First big step in improving health care in Indian Country. “We heard from a broad base of Native Americans throughout Montana concerning health care issues,” Tester said. “It was not specific to Crow or one tribe the hearing was for all tribes.” Concerns that the Chippewa Cree Tribe brought forth through Windy Boy’s testimony were in the areas of speciality care, including dental, substance abuse treatment including the devastation of methamphetamine abuse, diabetes and the need to better recruitment and retention of health care providers. “We are trying to get an increase to fund IHS at it’s fullest need,” Windy Boy said. “Even though IHS states that they are being funded at 60 percent, with all the facts and figures, it’s more like 45 to 50.” To give an example, he said, the last two health facilities that the Chippewa Cree Tribe was involved in constructing were never funded by IHS. “The last two, our tribe went out on their own and financed through traditional banking,” he said. “Both IHS buildings have been privately funded. Our locations up here in frontier Montana are so far away from everything that it puts us at a disadvantage. Because we are underfunded it still puts us at a disadvantage. Like the diabetics, for example. They go to Great Falls three times a week, from Rocky Boy that’s 100 miles one way 600 miles a week just for dialysis. Some have to go to Billings and that’s even farther.” Windy Boy also mentioned similar cases in Fort Belknap and Poplar and cited the personal, out-of-pocket costs that accrue like transportation and food for speciality care off the reservation. In 2006, $2.7 billion dollars were appropriated for Indian Health Service by the federal government. Health Resources and Services Administration through community health centers were awarded $5.45 bi l l ion, according to federal statistics. “On top of all of that, when people go into emergency care, because the IHS guidelines are so strict, we do not know if they will pass the contract health eligibility and if they do not, then the patients are stuck with the bill, which ends up on their credit report,” Windy Boy said. “These are the things that I mentioned at the hearing and hopefully these things will get their attention.” The next two weeks the record will be open for public comment to the Indian Affairs committee. Written testimony about health care issues in Indian Country can be submitted for the official record to testimony@ indian.senate.gov.