New commentary documents harmful effects of sequestration on Indian Health Service

Published on December 17, 2013 at 12:06 AM · No Comments

'As a matter of legal requirement, social contract, and moral obligation, the United States should fundamentally change how Indian Health is funded,' concludes new commentary

As federal legislators work toward a budget agreement, a new commentary documents the harmful effects of sequestration on the Indian Health Service. Sequestration forced a 5 percent reduction in funds for the Indian Health Service, perpetuating longstanding health care disparities and raising questions about the federal government's legal and moral obligation to Indians, states the commentary, which appears in the Hastings Center Report. It calls for the United States to fundamentally change how the Indian Health Service is funded.

Other important health care programs were exempted from sequestration, including Veterans Health Administration programs, State Children's Health Insurance Programs, and Medicaid, whereas the Indian Health Service was considered a "discretionary" line item in the federal budget. "Why is there not parity for Indians, whose health status remains far below that of mainstream America?" writes Marilynn Malerba, the lifetime chief of the Mohegan Tribe and a student in the Yale Doctor of Nursing Program.

The legal obligations of the government to the Indians originate with treaties negotiated in the 1700s between Indian tribes and the Continental Congress, explains Malerba, who chairs the Self-Governance Advisory Committee for Indian Health Service and is a member of the Tribal Nations Leadership Council for the Department of Justice.

"The treaties provide reason to consider the promise of health care to Indians as a matter of social contract as well as a legal contract," she writes. "The United States also has a moral obligation to provide at least enough for the health care of Indians to elevate their health status to that of mainstream Americans. The treaties established with Indian tribes provide one argument for recognizing that moral obligations are at stake.

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