Opinion: The health care crisis in Indian Country
"I've been following the healthcare reform debate and discussing it with family and friends. Most of them are concerned that the public option appears to be in trouble on the Hill while others are concerned about whether coverage for reproductive health care would become a political issue that will threaten coverage through a public option. But one friend pointed me toward the healthcare crisis facing Native Americans as an under-examined example of healthcare gone wrong and an under-utilized guide to what we need to avoid as we seek to reform healthcare for all Americans.

Tim Giago recently tackled the subject of how healthcare reform would impact Native Americans in an article entitled How Will Universal Health Care Affect Native Americans?. Giago, an Oglala Lakota and the publisher of Native Sun News, points out that healthcare in America may be failing but, by way of comparison, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius calls the health care of Native Americans a "historic failure." Our government, obligated through treaties and agreements, provides healthcare to Native Americans through the Indian Health Service. So, the "historic failure" is actually another government failure in a shamefully long line of government failures involving Native American people.

Giago poses some very important questions about whether healthcare reform will cover Native Americans too, how it will impact care on reservations and in urban areas and whether reform will impact the Indian Health Service. He also points out that Americans who point to Canada and Europe as examples of how "socialized" medicine can go wrong may want to look closer to home and at the government run Indian Health Service.

Giago's piece provides some insight into the key issue funding plays in the failures of the Indian Health Service. He quotes the new head of the Indian Health Service, Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, saying "It's clear that there's a call for change and improvement in the Indian Health Care Service, and it's also clear the IHS has been significantly under-funded for many years. The staff of Indian Health Service has been doing the best it can with limited resources, and in some cases they are providing excellent quality of care with limited resources.""

Get the Story:
Pamela Merritt: Pay It Right (RH Reality Check 6/30)

Another Opinion:
Jack Kavaney: Public health care not the answer (The Bismarck Tribune 6/30)

Related Stories:
Swearing-in ceremony for IHS head Roubideaux (6/29)
Editorial: IHS gets some long-overdue attention (6/26)
Tribes unsure of IHS stake in national reform talks (6/26)
House Resources Committee hearing on IHCIA (6/25)
Editorial: Get started on Indian health care (6/22)
Roubideaux won't call IHS a 'historic failure' (6/18)
Tribes want action, not words, on health care (6/17)
HHS Secretary promises Indian health focus (6/16)
Indian Country still waiting for better health care (6/15)