A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

13 July 2017 — 0932 mdt

Sen. Tester wanted some “damn answers” from the Indian Health Service


But he didn’t get them. Acting head of the Indian Health Service Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee stonewalled Tester and the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), on how the Trump administration’s budget would affect IHS staffing levels. Roll Call’s video of Tester’s questioning of, and increasing frustration with, Weahkee, will make your blood boil.

And it should. According to the Kaiser Health News:

The administration officials could not answer some basic questions from senators, including how much money the agency has gained from the health law’s Medicaid expansion and whether President Donald Trump’s budget proposal would help the agency to hire more staff.

The Indian Health Service, which oversees care to 2.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, has been chronically underfunded, and several of its hospitals have lost accreditation or been put under special watch by Medicare because of conditions that harmed patients. It has a 30 percent vacancy rate for doctors, dentists and physician assistants.

In 2013, Indian Health Service spending for patient health services was $2,849 a person, compared with $7,717 for per capita health care spending nationally, according to a report from the National Congress of American Indians. Despite less funding, Native Americans typically have higher incidences of serious health problems than the general public, including higher rates of diabetes, liver disease and unintentional injuries. [Highlighting by Flathead Memo.]

Trump’s budget includes $4.7 billion for the agency. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who chairs the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, which held the hearing, said that would amount to a 6 percent cut from the current funds. She noted the trim was well below other Department of Health and Human Services agencies, where proposed funding is reduced by an average of 18 percent.

I have no sympathy for Admiral Weak Knees. He placed serving Trump above serving his country and the people his agency exists to help. That such a man made admiral boggles one’s mind and shakes one’s faith in humanity and democracy. Tester was hard on him, but not hard enough.

Bringing the IHS’s per patient spending to parity with the rest of the nation would cost approximately $11 billion. We can afford it.