Indian Health Service (“IHS”), the federally-funded health care program for American Indians and Alaska Natives, is responsible for providing health care to approximately 2.2 million Native Americans in thirty-five states across the U.S., operating a network of 55 health centers, 26 hospitals and 21 health stations located primarily in rural areas. According to IHS, it’s agency-wide goal is to ensure that comprehensive, culturally acceptable personal and public health services are available and accessible to American Indians and Alaska Natives.
However, IHS is failing the millions of Native Americans who rely on the program for health care, as the agency is consistently underfunded, leading to significant health problems and deficiencies in care for Native Americans. The IHS, along with several other federal programs, was intended as a remedy of sorts for the historical mistreatment of Native Americans. Yet, despite its obligation to provide quality health care to Native Americans, IHS is a highly inadequate program, and its funds are so scarce that the quality of care is beyond poor and has resulted in a multitude of cases of negligence and malpractice.
With little to no access to quality health care from IHS, Native Americans face shockingly disparate health realities than do other Americans. In fact, American Indians die on average five years sooner than other Americans. When compared to other U.S. citizens, they are roughly 60% more likely to commit suicide, twice as likely to die in childbirth, and five times more likely to die from tuberculosis.
These glaring discrepancies seen between Native Americans and the rest of the American population portray a profoundly inadequate system that degrades American Indians and Alaska Natives through its blatant health care insufficiencies and its persistent lack of funding.
IHS deserves, and requires, funding to consistently replenish the program and keep up with the dire needs of the 2.2 million Native Americans it serves. As of now, IHS represents a broken system that’s failing American Indians and Alaska Natives. It’s time for this to change.