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E&C Democrats Request Hearing on Indian Health Service

Feb 22, 2017
Press Release

Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) Health Subcommittee Ranking Member Gene Green (D-TX), and Committee members Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), and Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D-CA) sent a letter to the Full Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Health Subcommittee Chairman Michael Burgess (R-TX) today to request a hearing on the Indian Health Service (IHS), the federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) responsible for providing health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The request comes after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently added “Improving Management of Federal Programs that Serve Tribes and Their Members” to its 2017 High Risk list.  GAO releases its High Risk list at the beginning of each Congress to call attention to agencies or programs that are high risk due to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement.  According to GAO, it took this action due to, among other things, ineffectively administered Indian health care programs that hindered IHS’s ability to ensure quality care to Indian communities.

The five Committee Democrats also pointed to deficiencies discovered at certain IHS facilities in the Great Plains Area in 2015 and 2016 that also raised questions about the quality of care IHS beneficiaries are receiving, and whether reforms made in recent years are improving the services that IHS provides. 

“The Energy and Commerce Committee plays an important role in ensuring that the 2.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives who get health services through the IHS receive high quality care,” the members wrote.  “Unfortunately, it has been over eight years since we last held a hearing in this area.  It is clear, based on GAO’s recent action and the incidents at IHS facilities in the Great Plains Area, that a hearing is necessary soon so that we can explore ways to improve health care services for American Indians and Alaska Natives.” 

The Energy and Commerce Committee last held a hearing on the IHS in 2009 on the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA).  Pallone was Chair of the Health Subcommittee at that time.  The permanent reauthorization of IHCIA in 2009 included several provisions to improve the IHS such as increasing services available at IHS facilities and expanding the number and type of programs that provide behavioral health and substance abuse treatment to American Indians and Alaska Natives. 

The IHS annually serves approximately 2.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives who are members of 567 federally recognized Tribes.  The IHS provides services through a network of 662 health facilities located on or near Indian reservations.  The IHS also refers beneficiaries to private providers of care when needed services are not available in the IHS network.

A copy of the letter is available here.