Alaska Delegation Pushes for Equal Treatment for Indian Health Service and VA

Alaskan Lawmakers Seek Forward Funding for I.H.S. Consistent with How Resources are Directed to Veterans Administration

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Alaska’s Congressional Delegation is advocating that Congress use the same approach it does with the Veterans Administration and fund the Indian Health Service one year in advance, to avoid the recurring and needless uncertainty faced by Alaska Native health care providers and those of providers for all indigenous people.  Given the fact that the IHS has received its funding on time only once in the last fifteen years, the delegation wrote a letter pressing House and Senate Budget Committee Leadership to foster an environment for future budgets that does away with this nearly annual stress on the system: 

Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich joined Congressman Don Young in writing:

“We respectfully request your support in allowing Congress to fund the Indian Health Service (IHS) on the same advance appropriations schedule that is currently used for Veteran Administration (VA) medical accounts.  This request would not require increased appropriations. We simply ask the Budget Conference to enable Congress to fund IHS one fiscal year in advance. 

“Congress, in enacting the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009, authorized advance appropriations for the VA.  Congress supported this effort in an overwhelming, bipartisan manner.  The VA and IHS are the only agencies that provide direct, federally-funded healthcare to specific populations and both agencies provide the services pursuant to longstanding federal policies.  Providing for the healthcare of our nation’s Native peoples is a critical component of our federal trust responsibility to tribes…” 

They also spotlighted the consistency of this problem by pointing out:

“Since 1998, the Interior Appropriations bill, which funds IHS, has only once been enacted on time..." 

Closing out the letter, they informed the Conferees that this concept has national support:

“Enabling advance appropriations for IHS is supported by a number of Native organizations and veterans advocacy groups including: the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the National Indian Health Board (NIHB), the National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH), the Maniilaq Association, and National American Indian Veterans (NAIV).”

The delegation letter is attached.