NATIVE AMERICANS: Clinton To Propose $175M Increase
The Clinton administration is set to unveil a plan to channel $175 million into the "long-neglected" Indian Health Service to relieve ongoing funding shortfalls. The AP/Los Angeles Times reports that the budget initiative represents an 8% jump over this year's $2.2 billion allocation, and comes in response to intense lobbying by Native American groups, criticism from Congress regarding past allocations and pressure from HHS Secretary Donna Shalala.
Making Up For Lost Time
Last year, the Clinton administration called for a "meager 0.9% increase for 1999," prompting the House Appropriations Committee's interior subcommittee to hike its request from $19 million to $141 million. Subcommittee Chair Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH) charged that the Clinton administration "should have been embarrassed by what they did last year." In addition to the budget initiative, Clinton will propose increases in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates to hospitals that provide services to Native Americans.
The AP/Los Angeles Times reports that the "healthy budget increases in the early 1990s" have leveled off in recent years, leaving ailing Indian Health clinics straining to treat "anything but routine troubles." Patients with complex medical conditions are referred to specialists, but the financial "crunch is so bad that most clinics run out of money for such referrals in the first three months of the year." National Indian Health Board Chair Buford Rolin told a Senate committee last year that "[p]eople are suffering and dying premature deaths, due in large part to reductions in Indian Health Service spending." He said, "Pain has become the new standard for determining who can access basic surgery and other specialized care" (Meckler, 1/16).