IHCIA not a Congressional priority

| Thu Jul. 27, 2006 7:51 PM EDT

A couple of days ago, New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman stood on the Senate floor and told terrible stories of Native Americans in his state who could not get health care. Native Americans are five to seven times more likely to get diabetes, and they are also more likely than other Americans to get tuberculosis, yet their healthcare choices are very limited.

Bingaman talked about a little girl who died because she could not get treatment, and then talked about a man who had run out of insulin, but when he went to the only available clinic, there was none there and the doctors were unable to get any for at least twenty-four hours. Patients who need serious or emergency treatment have no hospital, and often have no transportation to take them to one.

The Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA) was passed in 1976. IHCIA expired in 2000, and Congress has yet to renew it, despite putting about $3 billion a year into it. Native American advocates say this sum is too low, and that the lack of reauthorization make future funding uncertain.

The U.S. Senate only recently restored funding for the Urban Indian Health Program, which George W. Bush has proposed be eliminated in the 2007 budget.

The IHCIA reauthorization that is being proposed includes funding to recruit and train healthcare professionals, provide mental health treatment and mental and behavioral health education, and provide disease preventon and cancer screening. But Congressional interest in reauthorizing IHCIA, as usual, is low. In the meantime, the Indian Health Service estimates that two-thirds of health care needed by Native Americans and Alaskan Natives is denied.

In related news, Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment announced today that it will, along with Dooda Desert Rock Committee, oppose the approval of an air quality permit for the Desert Rock power plant in northwestern New Mexico.

From the announcement:

Two existing plants in the vicinity have been called two of the worst point-sources of pollution in the U.S. by the EPA, spewing concentrations of a number of pollutants proven to be damaging to human health and the environment. The health of neighboring residents has already been compromised by their exposure to these toxins; it would be genocidal to subject them to more pollutants in their already overburdened community. Despite the talk of so-called reduced power plant emissions, the San Juan County area simply cannot afford the increased emissions levels that will result from Desert Rock.

The announcement goes on to say that "The U.S. government spends twice as much per capita ($3800) on health care for federal prisoners as it spends for Native Americans."