Daines Moves Indian Health Service Reforms Forward

U.S. SENATE —U.S. Senator Steve Daines today helped move forward reforms that would improve patient safety and care by increasing accountability and transparency at the Indian Health Service (IHS). 

This afternoon, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed S. 2953, the Indian Health Service Accountability Act of 2016. Daines is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

Video of Daines’ remarks is available to watch here and download here.     

Daines: “During the July and August work period back in our state, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of Montana’s tribal communities. In fact, I got to nearly every reservation in Montana. And the consensus was clear: the Indian Health Service is in disrepair and desperate need of reform. I think all of us would agree with that. 

“The Missoulian recently covered the devastating state of the IHS in a four-part series. In fact, one of the words a Montana tribal leader used to describe the Indian Health Service in that report was called ‘Genocidal.’ 

“We’ve heard the tragic stories that have resulted from IHS negligence and lack of care for far too long. 

“That’s why I’m a co-sponsor of Chairman Barrasso’s Indian Health Service Accountability Act. This legislation makes modest yet meaningful changes to the IHS bureaucracy. It allows for the hiring of qualified employees, for the firing of those who aren’t qualified and to protect current employees who report malfeasance from retaliation.”

Fort Belknap Tribal Council President Mark Azure: “I feel it’s a step in the right direction and I feel it shows we’re working together to find ways to provide quality care to our tribal members!”

The act will improve transparency and accountability at the IHS by:

  • expanding removal and discipline authorities to deal with problem employees;
  • requiring tribal consultation before hiring key Area Office and Service Unit leadership;
  • commissioning Government Accountability Office reports on staffing and professional housing;
  • affirming and enhancing whistleblower protections;
  • mandating timely spending reports to Congress and tribes;
  • requiring accountability for patient deaths, including full inspector general investigations for deaths alleged to be the result of potentially criminal conduct by an IHS employee or contractor; and 
  • providing incentives for employees to assist in eliminating agency fraud, waste and abuse.
  • requiring the IHS to issue a meaningful agency-wide policy on tribal consultation through negotiated rulemaking with Indian tribes;
  • streamlining requirements for reporting to Congress on adverse personnel actions;
  • limiting suspension with pay to 365 days; and
  • requiring the IHS to create a centralized system to credential licensed health professionals seeking to volunteer at IHS facilities.

The act also addresses staff recruitment and retention shortfalls at IHS by:

  • expanding direct hiring, recruitment and retention authorities to avoid long delays in the traditional hiring process;
  • addressing personnel gaps by providing flexibility for competitive pay scales and temporary housing assistance for medical professionals; and
  • improving patient-provider relationships and continuity of care by providing incentives to employees for quality performance and finding innovative ways to improve patient care and safety.