Double Standard of Government-Run Healthcare
August 7, 2009 -- There seems to be political consensus that our healthcare system won’t end up like those in Canada or England. OK, but what about the American version that exists today of a single-payer, government-run healthcare agency?
The Bureau of Indian Affairs sent doctors to inoculate American Indians near military forts with smallpox vaccine in 1834. Perhaps that effort was more self-interest than preventative medicine, but by 1955 the newly created U.S. Indian Health Service became a full-fledged national, government-run healthcare network.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently told the Associated Press that the Indian Health Service has been a “historic failure,” and she promised to improve the agency.
The secretary would get a lot of support for that notion from Indian Country. Native Americans, who are the first to point out how the system hasn’t kept up with the need.
But this is a complicated issue. As National Congress of American Indians Vice President Jefferson Keel testified to Congress recently, “The truth is that the IHS system is not so much broken as it is ‘starved.’ Indeed, Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, the agency’s new director, said during her confirmation hearing that the funding shortage is her top concern because IHS has not been able to keep up with its obligations.
The General Accountability Office reported last year that because of shortages in budget, personnel and facilities “the IHS rarely provides benefits comparable with complete insurance coverage for the eligible population.” It spends about one-third less per capita than Americans in general and half of what’s spent for the healthcare of a federal prisoner. Often that means a rationing of care, especially when it means contracting with doctors outside the IHS network.