Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich today announced the introduction of a Senate bill that would deliver advanced appropriations to the Indian Health Service -- creating funding certainties for a year ahead so that health care providers can best deliver medical services to our Nation's first Americans -- similar to the Department of Veterans Affairs system where Congress sets funding levels in advance, to more properly fulfill the trust responsibility to America's first people nationwide.
This comes a week after Congressman Don Young introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. The delivery of health services is a key component of the United States' obligation to Indian tribes for the removal of their lands -- known as the federal trust responsibility.
In the U.S. Senate, Senator Murkowski introduced a bill this morning that Senator Begich co-sponsored to ensure passage of a sufficient, timely, and predictable budget to fund the IHS' healthcare system, without placing it at risk of delays due to Congressional impasses that have caused the current government shutdown. Health care for all Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives was guaranteed through hundreds of treaties signed by the United States and tribal nations.
"Just as this Nation has made a promise to its veterans for the delivery of health care, we cannot forget the promise made to American Indians and Alaska Natives -- and this government shutdown is a clear demonstration of the need to "pay it forward' for our first people," said Senator Lisa Murkowski. "Delayed funding means health care providers cannot budget with certainty, recruit health professionals, retain health professional or deliver services and they deserve better. We have done this before in 2010, when Congress funded the VA a year in advance because veterans groups were alarmed by delayed funding, and concerned about the VA's ability to plan and manage its resources. Our tribal health providers have those same concerns and are demanding that Congress provide IHS appropriations in advance so they may better manage the health care funds for American Indians and Alaska Natives and I think we should do so."
"I'm pleased to co-sponsor this important bill that will provide advanced appropriations for the Indian Health Services and make it easier for tribes and tribal health organizations to plan, budget, and provide enhanced health care to patients," said Senator Mark Begich. "The IHS has faced serious underfunding challenges for far too long. Congress can do more to ensure that this agency is doing all that it can to meet the needs of Alaska Natives and American Indians. Advanced appropriations have worked for the VA and will go a long way in improving the quality of life and wellbeing in our tribal communities."
"The VA and IHS are the only agencies that provide direct, federally-funded healthcare to specific populations and both agencies provide the services pursuant to longstanding federal policies," said Representative Don Young. "No matter what your position is on the current government shutdown, it's clear that IHS would be in a much better position to serve Alaska Native and Native American healthcare needs right now if the agency was funded through advance appropriations."
"In the last 15 years, there has been only one time where IHS received its funding before the fiscal year, making it virtually impossible for IHS and Tribal health administrators to plan," said National Indian Health Board Chairperson Cathy Abramson. "Delayed appropriations means American Indians and Alaska Natives do not get the best health care they deserve, thereby violating the federal trust responsibility to provide health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives. This legislation is unfortunately more needed than ever today, when the federal government shutdown has left hundreds of Tribes wondering how or if they will continue service without the needed funding promised to them by the federal government."