Sen. Thune: Pass Indian Health Care Improvement Act
The following is the opinion of Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota), one of the co-sponsors of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

One of the most important issues facing America today is the challenge of providing access to first-rate health care. Nowhere is this more relevant than in the Native American population and across the reservations.

The statistical realities of Native American health in South Dakota and across the nation are grim. In South Dakota, between 2000 and 2005, the infant mortality rate among Native Americans was twice as high as the rest of the population. Nationwide, Native Americans are three times more likely to die from diabetes than the rest of the population, and the percentage of Native Americans in South Dakota with diabetes is twice as high as the rest of the state.

The unsettling gap that exists between the standard of care for Native Americans and the rest of the country must be addressed. The Senate is currently working to reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, a bill which provides the overall framework for federal health services for Native Americans. I strongly support the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and I urge the Senate to pass this bill on a bipartisan basis as soon as possible.

One of my top priorities in this legislation is keeping the Wagner Service Unit Indian Health Services (IHS) facility open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I have been working closely with the Yankton Sioux Tribe as well as IHS officials and will continue to do so to keep this vital service available.

Improving health care on and off the reservation is a critical goal, but it is not the only serious challenge facing Indian Country today. Over the past year I have fought to improve tribal law enforcement and strengthen tribal justice systems. As Senator, one of my greatest privileges is representing nine of the Great Sioux Nation Tribes. I am committed to keeping up the fight to help make the reservations safer and to help improve the lives of those who live there.

Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments:
S.1200 | H.R.1328

House Energy and Commerce Committee Documents:
Summary | Manager's Amendment | Press Release | Webcast

Relevant Documents:
Letter to President Bush | Letter to Alberto Gonzales | DOJ White Paper

Relevant Links:
Indian Health Service -
National Indian Health Board -

Related Stories:
Abourezk: Hope for Indian health care reform (1/25)
Senate vote on IHCIA delayed until next week (1/24)
Day 2 of Senate debate on Indian Health Care (1/23)
Northwest tribes await outcome of IHCIA vote (1/23)
Senate opens long-delayed debate on IHCIA (1/22)
Sen. Coburn won't hold up Indian health bill (1/21)
Abourezk: GOP candidates silent on IHCIA (1/18)
Senate expected to vote on Indian Health Care Act (1/17)
Sen. Dorgan: Indian health care an embarrassment (12/7)
Arizona rebuffed on Indian health care costs (12/4)
House subcommittee approves Indian health care bill (11/08)
IHCIA delayed but could come up next week (10/26)
Long-delayed IHCIA set for vote in Senate (10/22)
Indian health care leaders win prestigious award (10/04)
Indian Country rallies for health care in U.S. Capitol (09/13)