Spending bill secures funds for Native American health care

Spending bill secures funds for Native American health care

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – Access to health care for Native Americans and Alaska Natives is being strengthened by funds contained in a massive government spending bill awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature.

The US House of Representatives passed the measure on Friday to avoid a government shutdown and provide more security for a federal agency that provides health care to more than 2.5 million people.

A coalition of lawmakers from Kansas, Arizona, New Mexico, California and other countries campaigned to include frontloaded funding for the Indian Health Service in the bill, a first for the chronically underfunded agency to ensure services could continue to operate in the event of a potential Funding continued disruption.

With the legislation, IHS joins other state health programs that receive upfront funding, including Medicare, Medicaid and the Veterans Health Administration.

“This will ensure patients are not exposed to the uncertainty of the government funding process, save lives and create stronger, healthier communities,” Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., said in a statement. “Along with increased funding for education, housing and economic development, this bill brings us closer to meeting our federal trust and treaty obligations to the Native American and Alaskan Native communities.

Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., said tribal health facilities are the main source of health care for the indigenous communities in his district. He described the inclusion of pre-financing for IHS as a historic step.

IHS, which operates two dozen hospitals and nearly 100 other clinics across the country, has repeatedly been the focus of congressional hearings and scathing government reports seeking reform.

The House Native American Caucus, in a letter sent earlier this month, called on the Biden administration, IHS and tribal nations to work towards approving the move away from discretionary funding.

Lawmakers cited a 2017 report by the Government Accountability Office that showed per capita spending on IHS fell more than two-thirds short of the $13,185 spent by Medicare. They said insufficient funding has led to ongoing staff shortages, limited equipment availability, extended wait times and other problems.

More recently, a GAO report released in March found that outdated facilities, few inpatient beds, and shortages of health care providers made the agency’s response to the coronavirus pandemic even more difficult.

IHS received more than $9 billion in COVID-19 relief funds — which it has used to meet both immediate and long-term needs — but some members of Congress have argued that the agency’s total budget does not meet real needs in tribal communities must cover.

Proponents have also argued that every time Congress passes a rolling resolution to keep the government running, IHS has to amend hundreds of contracts to align with available funds.

During the last government shutdown, the National Council of Urban Indian Health found that urban Indian organizations reported at least five patient deaths and significant disruption to patient care as some clinics were forced to close their doors.

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