Wilson Fights For Indian Health Programs
Wilson supported restoration of funding in 2006 and 2007
Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R-NM) today expressed her support for Indian health, including the Urban Indian Health Program, during a hearing in which the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Michael Leavitt testified on the Department's FY2009 budget.
For the third year in a row, the HHS budget has eliminated funding for the Urban Indian Health Program. Wilson has organized the support of numerous Members of Congress each year and successfully restored funding to this program so vital to thousands of urban Indians.
Wilson is doing so again this year by working across the aisle with Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) to urge Congress to prevent the Urban Indian Health Program from being eliminated.
Wilson asked several questions of Secretary Leavitt about his plan to end the program and serve urban Indians through community health centers when those centers have said that they do not have the capacity to absorb the new patients in the cities, like Albuquerque, where urban Indians are concentrated.
The Urban Indian Health Program provides $35 million of funding for the nearly 75% of Indians living away from their native tribal land in America's urban centers.
"Community health centers do not have the capacity to serve this increased volume of patients and the Department of Health has put forward no plan to make sure these patients are cared for," Wilson said.
Wilson challenged Secretary Leavitt on the justification for eliminating the program, asking him to show that shifting all patients to community health centers would save money while providing comparable access and quality of care.
Wilson also questioned Leavitt on a new program to start next month that uses private contractors to collect overpayments made by the Department. The Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) program would collect from providers such as hospitals and nursing homes, but has experienced problems when piloted in California, Florida, and New York. Wilson expressed concern about the program's effect on small and rural providers and urged the Secretary to examine the program more thoroughly before expanding it nationwide.
"While I support efforts to find and reduce fraud and abuse in the Medicare program, these contractors are paid only when they find errors and often go after small providers in rural areas for understandable human errors inherent in a program as complex as Medicare."
Albuquerque receives $1.5 million each year for the Urban Indian Health Program, funding urban health programs that serve 50,000 urban Indians living in the Albuquerque metro area.
Today's hearing was held by the Energy and Commerce Committee. Wilson serves on the Health Subcommittee, with has jurisdiction over Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, Indian health, and public health matters.