Murkowski Slams White House Plan to Cheat Tribal Health

Rob Capriccioso
September 16, 2013

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is expressing strong concern at the Obama administration’s plan to cut contract support cost (CSC) reimbursements to tribes in the federal budget’s continuing resolution being considered by Congress.

The administration’s proposal, supported by the Indian Health Service [IHS] leadership, is widely and wildly unpopular with tribal leaders, who believe Yvette Roubideaux, director of the agency, should be pushing the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to abandon this attempt to save federal money.

“I am deeply troubled by the Indian Health Service’s continued resistance to the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer that the federal government must pay the full amount of contract support costs to our tribes’ tireless and, oftentimes, thankless care for their people,” Murkowski told Indian Country Today Media Network in an exclusive statement. “This is not merely justice denied, but justice ignored.”

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The senator’s renewed concern comes after IHS officials pushed back last week against tribal concerns over the administration’s plan.

“The Administration’s decision was made after careful consideration of all views,” Dianne Dawson, a spokeswoman for IHS, told ICTMN last week by e-mail. “This option is a short-term approach in this difficult budget climate and is consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Salazar V. Ramah Navajo Chapter. We are currently consulting with tribes to find a long-term solution for CSC funding.”

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Murkowski expressed alarm at that interpretation. “What they are saying is not just revisionist history, it’s rewriting history,” she said. “The Ramah decision came down in June of last year and the Indian Health Service released its budget this April containing language that circumvents the Supreme Court’s ruling – without consulting tribes or involving Congress – and this ‘push back’ from them demonstrates that they continue to have no path forward to abiding by the law and respecting sovereignty.”

Dozens of tribal leaders have written to and met with members of Congress, asking for protection against the proposal, which they say cheats tribes out of millions of dollars.

Tribes and supportive Congress members believe the proposed tribe-by-tribe federal cap on CSC funding would wipe out tribal legal claims and put tribes in the difficult position of being required to spend large amounts of money to administer contract support programs without providing them the funding to do so.

Several House members have already spoken out against the administration’s plan. Congress must pass a continuing resolution by October 1 to avoid a partial government shutdown.

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Murkowski added that she has met recently with Alaska Natives whose health would suffer if the plan were to become part of the continuing resolution currently being considered in both chambers of Congress.

“Last month, I joined the Barrow community as they opened their new hospital,” the senator said. “There and other spectacular new health centers in Nome,  Fairbanks and Wasilla – as well as the existing clinics that have served their communities for years – Alaska Native tribes are doing their part to deliver the highest quality medical care to their communities, but they continue to wait for a true partner from this President.”