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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

Sen. Daines Criticizes Indian Health Service For Spending Decisions

Sen. Steve Daines speaks during an appropriations subcommittee hearing.
Sen. Steve Daines speaks during an appropriations subcommittee hearing.

Senator Steve Daines Wednesday criticized the Indian Health Service for what he says is too much spending on administration and not enough on actual health care.

"A recent study showed, in Montana, that White men live 19 years longer than American Indian men, and White women live 20 years longer than American Indian women."

The Bozeman Republican’s remarks came during an appropriations subcommittee hearing. He told the IHS’s Principal Deputy Director Mary Smith that, based on his private sector experience, the portion of the agency’s budget going toward administration should be decreasing. The Congressional Research Service says IHS’s budget has grown by more than a billion dollars since 2010.

"It looks like the percentage of administration costs are actually going up, versus going down. And typically when budgets are increasing, oftentimes because you’ve got a bigger denominator, the admin costs will start going down," Daines said.

The IHS’s Mary Smith defended the agency’s effectiveness.

"The childhood obesity rate is going down, and also I think the incidence of Type 2 diabetes has stabilized over the last few years."

Tribes have long complained that the Indian Health Service budget has never come close to meeting the needs health needs in Indian country, and it’s common for tribal members to be denied care unless they are at risk of losing their life or a limb. Many are hopeful that the Medicaid expansion launched in 2012, and approved by Montana last year, will give Native Americans better access to health care.

The White House is asking for an additional $402 million for the Indian Health Service next year.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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