Senator Lisa Murkowski took the opportunity of Maniilaq Association President Ian Erlich's Senate testimony to spotlight the chronic underfunding for Alaska's village built clinics by the Indian Health Service (I.H.S.) There are over 150 such clinics in Alaska -- with most being the only local option for health care -- and Murkowski asked Erlich about the "unresponsive" stance of the agency on requests for payments, and the absence of simple communication with Alaskans.
"What has I.H.S. said to you on this?" asked Murkowski. "It seems to me that they've had a deaf ear on this issue." Ehrlich indicated that because it's an Alaska-focused issue, he has requested a direct funding system be put in place -- a difficult prospect with Congress having banned such payments in its earmark moratorium.
Earlier this year, Senator Murkowski reached out to I.H.S. Director Yvette Roubideaux and urged her to fulfill her responsibilities to Alaska Native communities.
The hearing wasn't entirely critical, however. After Senator Murkowski and Ian Ehrlich discussed the need for health care funding in rural Alaska, she shared her deep gratitude and admiration towards outgoing committee chair Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) for his tireless efforts for Alaska Natives, Native Americans and Native Hawaiians -- and the unique connection between Alaska and Hawaii.
"Your chairmanship sir has been greatly appreciated, not only on the committee but on so many different issues as it relates to our indigenous peoples from Hawaii, Alaska, and American Indians around the country," Murkowski told Akaka. "For all you do for federal employees, for all that you do for our veterans, your leadership has been greatly appreciated and certainly admired, so thank you."