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Kerry campaign promises Indian health care boost

Charging that the Bush administration has ignored Indian Country, presidential candidate John Kerry unveiled a health care policy on Tuesday that aides said would pour billions into programs for Native Americans.

The plan is part of a broad minority health initiative aimed at reducing disparities affecting American Indians and Alaska Natives. In a conference call with the Native press, aides cited high rates of diabetes, alcoholism, obesity and other problems.

"We know that Native Americans are 770 percent more likely to die 770 percent more likely to die from alcoholism, 650 percent more likely to die from tuberculosis, 420 percent more likely to die from diabetes, and 52 percent more likely to die from pneumonia or influenza than the rest of the United States," said Mary Smith, a campaign advisor on Native American policy.

"We need to do something about that," added Smith, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation.

Aides said health care is one of the biggest differences between Kerry, Senator from Massachusetts, and incumbent President George W. Bush. They said the Bush administration has cut the Indian Health Service budget and has ignored health disparities affecting minorities.

"This administration has had four years to make their choice and we've seen the results," said Sarah Bianchi, national policy director for the campaign. She said more Native Americans than ever are without health insurance, a figure backed by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The overall plan would cost $653 billion over 10 years but aides couldn't say how much Kerry would seek for IHS if elected. The agency's budget for the coming year is about $3 billion.

"[IHS] would be included in that effort," said Bianchi. "[Kerry] pays for that by rolling back the Bush tax cut for Americans who make more than $200,000 a year."

Without the rollback, estimated at $300 billion in savings, Kerry's plan would top $1 trillion. Bush campaign aides counter that this kind of spending will break the bank and they say his health care plan will only cost $102 billion over 10 years for an additional 10 million people, a figure that has been questioned by independent experts.

IHS funding has been a key issue for tribal leaders, who say the agency's slight increases have not kept up with the rising cost of health care and inflation. Even government officials acknowledge American Indians and Alaska Natives are being shortchanged.

But getting more money for the IHS has proven elusive. For the past two years, Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate have beat back attempts to provide significant boosts for Native health care. In March, they defeated an amendment, sought by Sen. Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) to add $3.44 billion to the IHS budget.

Kerry aides admitted pushing through an increase would be difficult. "One of the most important things you can do as president is use the bully pulpit for issues," said Bianchi.

Smith pledged that the Kerry plan would help Natives whether they live on or off the reservation. "John Kerry and [running mate Sen.] John Edwards want to improve health care for Native Americans wherever they live," she said.

Relevant Documents:
Native American Health Plan | Minority Health Plan

Relevant Links:
John Kerry -
George W. Bush -
Indian Health Service -