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HEALTTH Act Addresses Healthcare Obstacles in Indian Country

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 12, 2016 -

Today, the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs held a legislative hearing on H.R. 5406 (Rep. Kristi Noem, R-SD), the Helping to Ensure Accountability, Leadership, and Trust in Tribal Healthcare Act (HEALTTH Act), highlighting the need to reform healthcare in Indian Country. The bill would improve access to tribal healthcare by reforming a range of medical care and administrative deficiencies within the Indian Health Service’s (IHS).  

In her opening statement, Rep. Noem described IHS as a broken system.

“Fixing it is literally a matter of life and death. Nowhere is this true than in the Great Plains,” Rep. Noem said. “At the center of it all is a healthcare system so deficient that providers are offering care with expired licenses, surgical instruments are being washed by hand, opioids and other drugs are being stolen by the thousands and premature babies are being born on hospital bathroom floors with no physician present.”

Vernon Miller, Chairman of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, echoed Rep. Noem saying stories from IHS facilities “sound like scenes from third world countries, not the American heartland.”

Rep. Noem, Subcommittee Chairman Don Young (R-AK) and several witnesses agreed that money alone will not fix this problem. Even with funding increases, IHS continues to fail to follow through with promised changes.

“It is clear that management, recruitment, accountability and transparency are all major issues that need to be addressed,” Victoria Kitcheyan, Secretary of Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, said.

Instead, tribes need more self-governance and control over health care management decisions. H.R. 5406 creates a pilot project in which hospitals can be controlled by Tribal-led boards rather than IHS, a concept supported by a majority of the witnesses.

“This bill does not fix every problem in the IHS; however it is a step in the right direction for Indian Country,” Chairman Young said.

Click here to view full witness testimony.

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

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