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Bill to provide mandatory IHS funding

WASHINGTON - Democratic leadership in the Senate and House of Representatives announced Oct. 22 that they will soon introduce a bill designed to provide minorities with improved access to health care.

"Our bill will make adequate funding of the Indian Health Service mandatory ? to end the shameful rationing of Indian health care," said Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Senate Minority Leader.

Frank Pallone, D-N.J., vice-chair, of the House Native American Caucus, said the IHS entitlement funding would "only carry out constitutional principles." The bill would also elevate the IHS director to the post of Assistant Secretary for Health within the Department of Health and Human Services, and offer incentives for young Native Americans to enter the health care profession.

Pallone said the larger bill "carries out the purposes of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act," which he introduced in the House.

The bill is entitled the Health Care Equality and Accountability Act of 2003. Given straitened federal budget circumstances and the combative political climate around health care heading into an election year, the bill is probably in for heavy debate at a minimum. Daschle called on Republicans to join Democrats in supporting it.