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Letter to Chairman Kent Conrad, Senator Judd Gregg, Chairman John Spratt and Congressman Paul Ryan, Leaders of the Senate and House Budget Committees, Re: Fund Health Care Programs for Indian Country

Johnson Fights to Fund Health Care Programs for Indian Country

U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) has joined with his Senate colleagues to urge members of the Senate and House Budget Committees to fully fund health care services for Indian Country as the budget process moves forward.

Johnson is asking that the final funding allocation for Indian Health Services (IHS) reflect the additional $1 billion in funding that was secured in an amendment in the Senate earlier this year. Johnson sponsored that amendment with Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND).

"I have worked with my colleagues to correct President Bush's budget proposal for the Indian Health Service, which grossly neglects the needs of Indian Country," said Johnson, a member of the Indian Affairs Committee. "The amendment the Senate approved in March was one step in a long process of crafting a realistic budget proposal. I strongly urge members of the Senate and House Budget Committees to retain this crucial funding."

The President requested $4.084 billion overall budget authority for the IHS as part of his FY09 proposal, which is no change from the funding level Congress set for FY08 in the Omnibus spending bill that passed the Senate in December and does not take into account rising costs and an ever-stretched budget.

Johnson has worked with his colleagues to create a more fiscally sound proposal for Indian Country. In March, the Senate approved a Johnson-cosponsored amendment that provides a $1 billion increase over the Administration's budget request for IHS. Johnson is now asking the Budget Committee to retain that additional funding as the budget process continues.

A Copy of the Letter is Below:

Dear Chairman Conrad, Senator Gregg, Chairman Spratt and Congressman Ryan:

We are writing to request your consideration of increased funding for the Indian Health Service as part of the final FY 2009 budget resolution.

On March 13, the Senate, by a resounding vote of 69 to 30, adopted an amendment to S. Con. Res. 70, the Senate FY 2009 budget resolution. This amendment provides a $1 billion increase over the Administration's budget request for Indian health programs administered by the Indian Health Service. The House-passed budget resolution does not include any increase in funding for Indian health over the Administration's budget request.

We urge that the final budget resolution contain a sufficient total for discretionary spending to support increased FY 2009 appropriations for priority programs like Indian health care. We sincerely hope that the conference report will reflect the strong Senate support for this significant increase for the Indian Health Service.

The Senate recently passed legislation amending and reauthorizing the statute that provides Indian health services and facilities. While passage of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments on February 26th was a cause for real celebration in Indian Country, it was just one step. We must increase appropriations for Indian health services and facilities. The amendment to the budget resolution providing a significant increase for Indian health programs is a good next step in this process.

Additional funding is vital to addressing very serious health statistics faced by Native Americans. American Indians and Alaska Natives die at higher rates than other Americans from such diseases as tuberculosis, alcoholism, and diabetes. They also face higher mortality rates from injuries and suicide.

Two examples of unmet needs are Health Care Facilities Construction and Contract Health Services. Currently, there is a $2.6 billion unmet need for construction of health care facilities in Indian Country, and an additional $400 million needed for maintenance and repairs of existing facilities. Another $6.5 billion has been identified as needed for future health care facilities construction in Indian Country.

The Contract Health Services Program of the Indian Health Service has an unmet need of over $1 billion dollars. This program allows for medical care and urgent health care services to be purchased when the Indian Health Service or tribal health facilities are not able to provide it. This is the program that has given rise in Indian Country to the saying, "Don't get sick after June," because it is common for the Indian Health Service to run out of funding for Contract Health Services by June.

The Senate is on record that funding for Indian health is a priority for the FY 2009 budget resolution. We believe that the final budget resolution's inclusion of an increase for Indian health programs is important, and urge your support for the increase.

Thank you for your consideration of our request as you finalize the FY 2009 budget resolution.

Sincerely,

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND)
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD)
Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR)
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE)
Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI)
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK)


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