Murkowski Demands Answers on Indian Health Service's Proposed Budget Cuts

“We need you to advocate for those within the IHS System”

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) chaired an Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Indian Health Service's (IHS) budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018. Senator Murkowski raised concerns with Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee, the new Acting Director for the Indian Health Service, over the administration’s budget request containing a decrease of $300 million from last year’s enacted levels.

“There is anger, there is frustration and rightly so because as a government, as an agency, we our failing these people. And there is a lot of focus right now on healthcare around the country, and what we do to make it right. Whether it’s the facilities and maintenance backlog that we’re dealing with and the real pressing need, whether it’s the opioid crisis that is hitting our native people at astonishing rates and we see it all over the country but we’re looking at a cut, 6 percent cut, almost $13 million dollars in the budget for alcohol and substance abuse programs, within the domestic violence initiatives. Again, I think about the headway that we have been making, we must continue to make, and I find difficulty with this budget in terms of how we can advance that. Do you think you can keep that commitment to improving the IHS with the levels that are proposed within this budget here?”


(Click here to watch video

Admiral Michael Weahkee responded, “Well ma’am, we see the budget as an initial proposal. That we are open to working with you and others to identify and help meet the needs of our American Indian and Alaskan Native people.”

“Well, sir, you have not directly answered the question, whether or not we have provided you with sufficient resources. That’s what this committee does as the appropriations subcommittee for the interior, for oversight as IHS. We want to help you. We want to know that you’ve got the resources that you need because it’s my assumption that the three that I’m highlighting here—Rose Bud, Pine Ridge, and Winnebago—are just the ones make the Wall Street Journal. That there are other facilities, I know that there are other facilities. In Alaska, we are a different model, a different system. And I think that you know, certainly my colleagues here know, that usually I’m laser focused on the situation in Alaska, but I can’t stand down knowing that our system is failing so many of our native people around the country. So we want to help you, but we need to know how we can best facilitate that. So this conversation will continue.” 

Senator Murkowski asked specific questions regarding concerns for Alaskans: (Click headlines to watch videos)

  • Contract Support Costs (CSC): The budget request provides full funding for CSC by maintaining indefinite language Senator Murkowski included in the FY’16 appropriations bill. 
  • Recruitment and Retention: Murkowski explained the need to focus on housing, maintaining competitive salaries, and other methods to recruit and retain physicians necessary for IHS programs to function properly and best serve the people.
  • Village Built ClinicsMurkowski addressed how specific maintenance needs must be addressed, as the tribes are paying out of pocket when it is a federal responsibility to support these clinics.
  • Medicaid: Murkowski requested for the agency to expeditiously provide data of the breakdown of Medicaid demographics within IHS to have a greater understanding of impacts to Alaska Natives and American Indians around the country.

Related Issues: Health, Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska