Native Americans Swallow Vitter Bill

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Based on U.S. government and Native American treaties, this country has a legal and moral responsibility to provide health care to American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AI/AN). Indian Health Services (IHS) provides care to ~2 million tribal members in 35 states through hospitals, health centers, and clinics located on AI/AN reservations, but they also purchase health care through Contract Health Services.

FY 2000-2001 Regional Difference Report, Indian Health Services

FY 2000-2001 Regional Differences Report, Indian Health Services

Despite federal policy on treaties, the IHS is consistently under-funded. In 1976, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA) was approved in an attempt to address health disparity needs. Today, the IHS Federal Disparities Index (FDI) indicates current funding is at only 60 percent of IHS total need. The IHCIA expired in 2000 and despite broad support and intense AI/AN efforts, reauthorization of the bill failed.

Why did it fail? Sen. David Vitter introduced the Vitter Amendment, an anti-abortion rider supported by the National Right to Life Committee. Even though this amendment is redundant to the Hyde Amendment, Vitter is on a political crusade to slog down health care bills with Right to Life anchors. Ironically, the IHS doesn’t even offer abortion services.

During a radio interview, Stacy Bohlen, Executive Director of the National Indian Health Board, stated,

…a letter was sent to every member of the House threatening that a vote on the IHCIA was going to be scored as a National Right to Life vote whether the abortion language is in it or not.

Despite progress by the House Subcommittee on Health, the IHCIA bill remained hostage to abortion politics. Meanwhile, the IHCIA did make it to the Senate floor and the Vitter Amendment was reluctantly accepted in an effort to gain approval. It passed—no thanks to Vitter. He voted no.

For the 5th time since 2000, the IHCIA is once again before Congress. Please call your Congressional Representatives to show your support for the passage of this long-overdue AI/AN health care bill—and ask them to leave abortion politics out of it! Children like Ta’Shon Rain Little Light or Trevor should not be victims to Vitter political grandstanding, as their health care needs remained unmet due to shameful (under)funding policy.

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5 Responses to “Native Americans Swallow Vitter Bill”

  1. carriesummerterm Says:

    Excellent post. I will call Nancy Pelosi tomorrow- thank you for bringing this to my attention. This specific example reminds me of how woefully inadequate our healthcare system is…for everyone today seems forced to swallow some version of this Vitter bill.

  2. ghebre Says:

    The time is right to reclaim equal rights for all Americans and why should
    the most vulnerable of communities be overlooked!! Let’s all see to it that no American is left behind in the move towards a more ethical health care funding.

  3. kbingley Says:

    For Fiscal Year 2010, it appears as if The Congress will make a leap towards the funding required for the Indian Health Service to operate successfully. This year a 13% increase in the Indian Health Service (IHS) budget is proposed; for a proposed FY10 budget of $4.034 Billion. In addition, the IHS received over $500 million in Stimulus (ARRA) dollars that greatly helped in bringing tribal community infrastructure and hospital/clinic medical equipment up to par with advancing technology.

    • cdionne Says:

      kbingley: I appreciate your comments and your look at the proposed funding — which hasn’t occurred yet and may still be adjusted by Congress. But, it isn’t JUST about the money…it’s also about the revision of the original authorization bill that would allow the IHS to completely restructure. Adding money to the old rules for spending it isn’t the best solution. Also, $500 million hasn’t brought anything up to par yet. Not even close. (562 tribes spread out across 35 states. They need a minimum 6 BILLION to be anywhere near “up to par”.) I do appreciate that Congress has continued to fund the IHS, even without a reauthorization bill. But, without passage of the revised authorization bill, it’s sort of like throwing money at an obsolete production line…

  4. eljhsph Says:

    The problems faced by AI/NA here are appalling! So many live in abject poverty, continually short-changed by our Congressional representatives. The fact that Vitter has made it his crusade to derail any health care funding by playing the pro-life card is ridiculous. I wonder how many “pro-lifers” realize that their political/religious/moral agenda is being used to deny health care to potentially hundreds of thousands of American children? When you couple things like this to the abysmal management of Native American trust funds by the Department of the Interior (http://www.fcnl.org/issues/item.php?item_id=1222&issue_id=112) it’s just shameful.
    I’m glad that JHSPH has a focus on NA/AI health issues, but most Americans are clueless. People assume that people in Africa/Asia/South America/etc. need our help (they might, but “charity begins at home”), and every time a tsunami or earthquake hits some other nation, people are lining up to volunteer or donate while our fellow Americans are dying a slow genocide.

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