Sequesters and reservations: On cuts to Indian Health Service

By Elizabeth Lefebvre| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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Yesterday, the U.S. bishops reminded congress for the umpteenth time that the choices they make determining what how our country distributes funding are economical, political, and moral.

In a letter to Congress Bishops Stephen Blaire and Richard Pates told our lawmakers that “A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.”

Especially troubling, then, is a New York Times editorial today that criticizes the effects of the sequester on American Indians, most notably through cuts of 5 percent to Indian Health Service, which provides care to two million people. Emergency health care funding for trauma and major surgeries is severely at risk and could run out by the end of the year.

The editorial doesn’t hold back its judgment, saying:

Here lies a little-noticed example of moral abdication. The biggest federal health and safety-net programs — Social Security, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income, and veterans’ compensation and health benefits — are all exempt from sequestration. But the Indian Health Service is not.

The Times points out that many of the people impacted by these cuts, who live in some of the most remote areas of the country, are also some of the country’s poorest and sickest people. This is when it should become the most necessary to provide care—these are the people that should be considered when making economical, political, and moral decisions about spending. The editorial makes a comparison to our country’s care for veterans, saying that Indian health is “supposed to be one area in which duty and compassion trumped cheapness.”

Duty and compassion have not exactly been the standard in our country’s treatment of American Indians. But the Times made it quite clear: "The federal government cannot use its budget nihilism to avoid its moral and legal obligations."