Native Americans Denied Health Care By Grossly Underfunded IHS

Posted by – June 20, 2009

Instead of PAYING THE RENT to the rightful landowners, the White American government stole all the Indians’ land, and now that we control everything, we deny adequate health care on reservations and let them suffer and die.  According to this AP story, the U.S.  spends more on health care for FELONS in federal prison alone (not counting state and county lockups) than we do on Native Americans’ health care    We value convicted criminals more than Indian children.  Nice.

BY MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press Writer
– Sun Jun 14, 7:39 pm ET

CROW AGENCY, Mont. – Ta’Shon Rain Little Light, a happy little girl who loved to dance and dress up in traditional American Indian clothes, had stopped eating and walking. She complained constantly to her mother that her stomach hurt.

When Stephanie Little Light took her daughter to the Indian Health Service clinic in this wind-swept and remote corner of Montana, they told her the 5-year-old was depressed.

This little girl from the Crow Nation, TaShon Little Light, died after the IHS told her family that abdominal pain was all in her head.

This little girl from the Crow Nation, Ta'Shon Little Light, died after the IHS told her family that abdominal pain was "all in her head."

Ta’Shon’s pain rapidly worsened and she visited the clinic about 10 more times over several months before her lung collapsed and she was airlifted to a children’s hospital in Denver. There she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, confirming the suspicions of family members.

A few weeks later, a charity sent the whole family to Disney World so Ta’Shon could see Cinderella’s Castle, her biggest dream. She never got to see the castle, though. She died in her hotel bed soon after the family arrived in Florida.

“Maybe it would have been treatable,” says her great-aunt, Ada White, as she stoically recounts the last few months of Ta’Shon’s short life. Stephanie Little Light cries as she recalls how she once forced her daughter to walk when she was in pain because the doctors told her it was all in the little girl’s head.

Ta’Shon’s story is not unique in the Indian Health Service system, which serves almost 2 million American Indians in 35 states.

On some reservations, the oft-quoted refrain is “don’t get sick after June,” when the federal dollars run out. It’s a sick joke, and a sad one, because it’s sometimes true, especially on the poorest reservations where residents cannot afford health insurance. Officials say they have about half of what they need to operate, and patients know they must be dying or about to lose a limb to get serious care.

Wealthier tribes can supplement the federal health service budget with their own money. But poorer tribes, often those on the most remote reservations, far away from city hospitals, are stuck with grossly substandard care. The agency itself describes a “rationed health care system.”

The sad fact is an old fact, too.

The U.S. has an obligation, based on a 1787 agreement between tribes and the government, to provide American Indians with free health care on reservations. But that promise has not been kept. About one-third more is spent per capita on health care for felons in federal prison, according to 2005 data from the health service.

This photo from the Little Light family shows Thea Little Light, 13, left, and Tia Little Light, 10, with their 5 year-old sister TaShon Little Light, on the Crow Indian Reservation

This photo from the Little Light family shows Thea Little Light, 13, left, and Tia Little Light, 10, with their 5 year-old sister Ta'Shon Little Light, on the Crow Indian Reservation

In Washington, a few lawmakers have tried to bring attention to the broken system as Congress attempts to improve health care for millions of other Americans. But tightening budgets and the relatively small size of the American Indian population have worked against them.

“It is heartbreaking to imagine that our leaders in Washington do not care, so I must believe that they do not know,” Joe Garcia, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said in his annual state of Indian nations’ address in February.

___

When it comes to health and disease in Indian country, the statistics are staggering.

American Indians have an infant death rate that is 40 percent higher than the rate for whites. They are twice as likely to die from diabetes, 60 percent more likely to have a stroke, 30 percent more likely to have high blood pressure and 20 percent more likely to have heart disease.

American Indians have disproportionately high death rates from unintentional injuries and suicide, and a high prevalence of risk factors for obesity, substance abuse, sudden infant death syndrome, teenage pregnancy, liver disease and hepatitis.

May 19, 2008, Obama becomes the first presidential candidate in American history to visit the Crow Nation.

May 19, 2008, Obama becomes the first presidential candidate in American history to visit the Crow Nation.

While campaigning on Indian reservations, presidential candidate Barack Obama cited this statistic: After Haiti, men on the impoverished Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations in South Dakota have the lowest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere.

Those on reservations qualify for Medicare and Medicaid coverage. But a report by the Government Accountability Office last year found that many American Indians have not applied for those programs because of lack of access to the sign-up process; they often live far away or lack computers. The report said that some do not sign up because they believe the government already has a duty to provide them with health care.

The office of minority health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Indian Health Service, notes on its Web site that American Indians “frequently contend with issues that prevent them from receiving quality medical care. These issues include cultural barriers, geographic isolation, inadequate sewage disposal and low income.”

Indeed, Indian health clinics often are ill-equipped to deal with such high rates of disease, and poor clinics do not have enough money to focus on preventive care. The main problem is a lack of federal money. American Indian programs are not a priority for Congress, which provided the health service with $3.6 billion this budget year.

Officials at the health service say they can’t legally comment on specific cases such as Ta’Shon’s. But they say they are doing the best they can with the money they have — about 54 cents on the dollar they need.

Full story: AP: PROMISES, PROMISES: Indian health care needs unmet (worth the read)

It’s their land we all live on, all of it; there should really be acknowledgment of that and the appropriate payments made. The least we can do is PAY THE RENT so tragedies like this don’t have to happen.

Just as Australian band Midnight Oil sang about the Aborigines they got all their land from:

The time has come, to say fair’s fair
to pay the rent, now, to pay our share

Beds Are Burning – Midnight Oil

Nick