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Juneau Empire - Legislation Would Ensure Funding for Tribal Clinics, Hospitals

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By Jennifer Canfield

Alaska's tribal hospitals and clinics would continue to be funded under legislation sponsored by Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, despite delays in Congress to pass a federal budget. Rep. Don Young introduced similar legislation in the House last week.

Funding for the Indian Health Service was attached to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The IHS would not be funded if Obamacare were not funded.

Before the Oct. 1 deadline for Congress to pass a federal budget, the IHS was proposing caps on contract support costs. Programs such as Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program and Social Security were exempted from sequestration, but the traditionally underfunded IHS was not and its budget was cut 9 percent.

Michael Jenkins, spokesman for the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, said the organization has been bracing for the impacts of delayed federal funding.

"We're really in an unknown world at this point and we just have to take a wait-and-see attitude," Jenkins said. "Because we've cut back, we're solvent and functioning as a healthcare organization."

Jenkins said SEARHC would have to reconsider certain programs if Congress doesn't pass a budget in the next few months. He said construction of a clinic in Hoonah would continue regardless because it's funded through other sources.

"What we will have to do is delay purchasing on certain approved items unless they're funded through another source like a grant," Jenkins said. "For now we're just being told to hold off on unnecessary spending."

ALASKA'S CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION WEIGHS IN

"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. Delayed funding means health care providers cannot budget with certainty, recruit health professionals, retain health professional or deliver services, and they deserve better." -Sen. Lisa Murkowski

"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." - Sen. Mark Begich

"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. 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." -Sen. Don Young


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