The average cost of mainstream health insurance plans is approximately 40% greater than the Indian Health Service (IHS) funding level for American Indian and Alaska Native people. This funding gap limits health care services and contributes to the lingering disparities of death and disease among Indians. The first step needed to redress this shortfall was achieved this year when Congress permanently re-authorized funding for the Indian Health Services Act. Now the push is on to get the Congress to provide increased funding.
Working with tribal organizations and Indian health leaders, the Health Rights Organizing Project (HROP) has been supporting the appropriation of $4.4 billion for IHS. The first step in the process was successful: the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and the Environment provided $4.4 billion for IHS in their initial appropriation bill. This is a $354 million increase over last year, and is exactly the funding level being requested by tribal organizations and HROP.
While this is a powerful step in the right direction, it is only the first step in a long process. The bill must next win approval in the full House Appropriations Committee, the U.S. House, and then the Senate. The Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Chaired by Senator Feinstein of California, has not yet written a bill.
Congress is likely to have difficulty resolving appropriations issues this year and may fail to pass appropriations bills like the one that include IHS funding. They may resort to what is called a continuing resolution to keep government programs operating in lieu of a regular appropriation. If this method is used by the Congress, increases in funding such as the one provided for IHS may be in jeopardy.