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Robert McSwain named acting director of Indian Health Service

Robert McSwain. Photo from Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board

Correction: The IHS has resolved $679 million in contract support costs claims as of January 2015, not $1 billion as incorrectly reported in the first version of this post.

The Indian Health Service has a new, albeit temporary, leader.

Robert McSwain, a member of the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, will serve as acting director, the Department of Human and Health Services announced today. He previously served as director during the final years of the Bush administration and remained on board for the Obama administration as the agency's deputy director.

Former Director Yvette Roubideaux at the White House Tribal Nations Conference in December 2014. Photo from IHS

in April 2013, President Barack Obama re-nominated Yvette Roubideaux, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, to serve a second term as director of the IHS. However, the Senate has not confirmed her due to concerns about outstanding contact support cost cases.

Roubideaux and the IHS have since finalized $679 million in contract support cost claims with tribes. She was named acting director during this period.

But federal law limits the amount of time a nominee can serve in an acting position. So the Obama administration had to name someone else as director.

"We are working expeditiously to resubmit Dr. Roubideaux’s nomination," a spokesperson for HHS said today. "While her re-nomination is under consideration, Dr. Roubideaux will serve as a Senior Advisor to the Secretary for American Indians and Alaska Natives."

Just last week, Roubideaux announced the agency's fiscal year 2016 budget. It requests a record $5.1 billion, a 9.9 percent increase over the 2015 level.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Indian Health Service FY2016 Budget Conference Call

"This proposal reflects the administrations continuing commitment to improve access to healthcare for American Indians and Alaska Natives," Roubideaux said on a conference call with reporters.

The budget also includes a proposal to fund contract support costs on a permanent basis, starting in fiscal year 2017. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the IHS must fully fund self-determination contracts, including additional support costs owed to tribes.

"If enacted by Congress, this change is a long-term solution that will continue the policy to fully fund contract support costs, make new investments to ensure program integrity, and protect the health care services budget," the document states.

The Obama administration will consult tribes as it moves forward with the proposal. Contract support costs are funded at $718 million, an increase of $55 million, in the budget.

Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Documents:
IHS Budget Overview | HHS Budget in Brief

Related Stories:
Indian Health Service tops $5B mark with new budget proposal (02/02)

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