Daines: Systemic Failures at Indian Health Service are Unacceptable

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senator Steve Daines today pushed Indian Health Service (IHS) officials on the agency’s persistent shortcomings in providing quality reliable access to health care services for tribal members across the nation and called on IHS to urgently implement much-needed reforms to address the deficiencies plaguing the agency. 

During a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on the substandard quality of Indian health care in the Great Plains, Daines condemned the systemic failures at IHS that have led to inadequate care for tribal members across Montana.

Click here to download Daines’ remarks.

Click here to watch Daines’ remarks.

“Problems like this have been happening for decades and the fact that they’re still happening today is unacceptable,” Daines stated. “In your testimony you stated that under this administration, funding for IHS has increased by 43 percent – however the issues we are addressing today are not the result of underfunding, plain and simple. This is an issue of oversight, it’s an issue of accountability, it’s an issue of failing to follow through on promises and basic responsibilities to Indian Country.”

“I don’t think this is a health care system—this is a health care tragedy,” Daines continued. “As I spend a lot of time with the families in Indian Country and see the outcomes of a system that is very, very broken—it is absolutely a tragedy. We are dealing with real lives of real people – with grandmas and grandpas and children and moms and dads who are suffering and dying prematurely.” 

During the hearing, Daines shared the specific challenges that a constituent from Montana’s Ft. Belknap Reservation had faced while seeking care through IHS. 

“I recently heard from a constituent of mine who is a member of the Assiniboine Tribe of Fort Belknap, who contacted me to voice the hardships she’s faced in seeking treatment through IHS,” Daines shared. “She drove 35 miles to the closest IHS facility, she spent four hours there to get her medication and then she drove all the way home and found she had been administered the wrong medication. She described the way IHS has treated her on multiple occasions as with extreme ‘negligence.’ In fact, when she called she told them she had the wrong medication and they told her to flush it down the toilet.’”

Daines also emphasized how health care challenges facing Indian Country are exacerbated by the excessive fines tribes are facing under President Obama’s health care law. Daines highlighted the need for his bill, Tribal Employment and Jobs Protection Act, which exempts tribal employers from Obamacare’s burdensome employer mandate and upholds the U.S. Government’s trust responsibility to Tribes.  

“I hope through efforts like this legislation, we as a committee and as a greater body, can continue working to uphold the United States trust responsibility to Indian tribes while honoring this very important government-to-government relationship.”