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Republicans defeat IHS budget increase

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - An amendment to the budget resolution considered by Congress to add $2.9 billion to the fiscal year 2005 Indian Health Services budget was introduced by Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D. and defeated on a party line vote later in the day.

The amendment would provide for a $38.7 billion increase over the next 10 years.

"The health care currently provided by the IHS is so inadequate that Native American men, women and children are routinely denied even the most basic medical care that most of us take for granted and, in many cases, would consider essential," Sen. Daschle said.

When Daschle introduced the amendment to increase the IHS budget, the vote was 51-48 against. Every Republican voted against his amendment.

The Senate instead voted to increase the IHS budget by 10 percent for fiscal year 2004. That increase would be offset by other discretionary spending from other American Indian programs and health care initiatives, Daschle said.

"The fight is not over," Daschle added.

For the general U.S. population, health care spending is at the rate of $4,400 per person. In Indian country the spending is at $1,800 per person. More is spent for Medicare, Medicaid and other beneficiaries by the federal government.

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"The small increase approved by the Senate is not nearly enough to meet the existing need," Daschle said.

Daschle told the Senate that American Indian patients are being told their treatment will be deferred unless they pass the life or limb test. That means that in many IHS facilities unless the life of the patient is threatened or they will suffer the loss of a limb, their treatment is not considered a priority.

In the meantime at Lake Andes and Wagner on the Yankton Reservation, the ambulance provides emergency service for both the Indian and non-Indian communities because the Wagner IHS service unit is not capable due to previous budget cuts. When IHS is late on payments to the ambulance service, residents of Charles Mix County and the Yankton reservation are at risk.

In Bennett County between the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations the ambulance service and hospital suffers from like reimbursement delays.

Daschle said when a patient's treatment finally gets taken care of it becomes more costly because of the delay.

The amendment introduced the morning of March 25, would have provided basic health services to the American Indians and Alaska Natives who use the IHS facilities.

Daschle's amendment would have been paid for in an offset created by a decrease in the tax benefits offered to the top income bracket.