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IHS budget eliminates urban Indian health program

For the second year in a row, the Bush administration has proposed to eliminate all funding for urban health clinics that serve more than 100,000 Native Americans.

In the fiscal year 2008 budget released on Monday, the Indian Health Service zeroed out the $33 million Urban Indian Health Program. "Unlike Indian people living in isolated rural areas, urban Indians can receive health care through a wide variety of federal, state, and local providers," according to the document.

The administration says it wants to focus on health care services on or near reservations. But Geoffrey Roth, the director of the National Council of Urban Indian Health, called the cut "an outrage" and a threat to tribal sovereignty.

"While the elimination comes as no shock to Indian Country, the administration's continued disregard of the urgent health care needs of the urban Indian population and tribes' rights to self-determination is nevertheless disconcerting," said Roth.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives don't live on reservations. The 34 urban clinics that receive funds from the IHS provide critical care to these tribal members that they can't get at other facilities, Roth said.

Without federal funding, half of the clinics say they will be forced to reduce services or shut down altogether. And since the IHS is under-funded, tribal facilities that are forced to ration care won't be able to meet the needs of reservation and urban patients.

"In sum, lack of services would increase -- not decrease -- the gross health care disparities for American Indians and Alaska Natives," NCUIH said on Monday.

In hopes of counteracting the proposal, Roth's organization is teaming up with the National Indian Health Board to lobby Congress to restore the $33 million. A press conference is being planned in Washington, D.C., on February 15.

When the same cut was made last year, urban Indian advocates and tribal leaders successfully convinced lawmakers to support the clinics. "Funding for the urban health program has been restored and the proposal to eliminate this program is rejected," the House stated in its 2007 budget report.

Some key leaders are already speaking against the proposed IHS budget. It is unacceptable that, year after year, the Bush Administration fails to provide access to better health care for families in Native communities," said Rep. Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia), the chairman of the House Resources Committee.

Overall, the budget seeks $3.1 billion for IHS clinical services, an increase of $246 million from current levels. Preventive health would receive $130 million, an increase of $13 million.

Facilities construction would receive $13 million, a loss of $24 million. Sanitation construction, which ensures Indian communities have safe water and waste disposal systems, would be cut by $4 million, for a total of $89 million.

Relevant Documents:
Budget in Brief

Relevant Links:
National Council of Urban Indian Health -
National Indian Health Board -
Indian Health Service -