U.S. Senator Begich urged President Obama to fix a flawed interpretation made by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) which determined the majority of the Indian Health Service (IHS) budget was "discretionary." As a result, IHS has been subject to the full impact of sequestration, while other critical health services such as Medicaid, Medicare, and the Veterans Administration are either exempt or do not face the full 8.2 percent cut.
"The federal government has a trust responsibility to Alaska Natives and American Indians which is well established through treaties and federal Indian law," stated Sen. Begich in a letter the White House this week. "While I am committed to reducing the national debt, I strongly believe that it should not be done by compromising the health of this nation's First Peoples. IHS provides critical, direct services to some of the most vulnerable communities in our nation. IHS also contracts with tribes across the country, most notably in Alaska, who then deliver direct health care services to their tribal members as authorized by the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act. In most places in rural Alaska the local village clinic is the only health care available for hundreds of miles. IHS is already underfunded and cannot absorb additional cuts. OMB needs to fix this before Alaska Native health organizations are forced to cut critical programs and services."
Sen. Begich made remarks Wednesday at the National Congress of American Indian's Tribal Unity Impact Day in Washington D.C. to call attention to this issue and to voice his support for exempting the IHS from sequestration.