Recent Press Releases

Senate Passes Indian Health Care Improvement Act

Thune Hails Wagner Clinic, Tribal Justice Study

February 26, 2008

Washington, D.C. —  The U.S. Senate today passed by a vote of 83 to 10 the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (S. 1200). The bill includes Senator Thune's amendment to improve tribal justice systems and law enforcement as well as provisions to prevent the scheduled reduction of hours at the IHS Wagner Service Unit.

"The unsettling gap that exists between the standard of care for Native Americans and the rest of the country must be addressed," said Thune. "The Indian Health Care Improvement Act provides the overall framework for federal health services for Native Americans. I strongly urge the House of Representatives and President Bush to act on this important legislation as soon as possible."

This act is the first major reauthorization of the Indian Health Service since it expired in 2001. It includes measures to increase access to preventative procedures such as screening for diabetes and cancer. It also preserves the Urban Indian Health Program, which has facilities in Aberdeen, Pierre, and Sioux Falls.

"For too long the IHS has been forced to focus on reactionary medicine by simply treating diseases like diabetes and cancer," said Thune. "This bill would allow Native Americans to receive more proactive services geared towards early detection and prevention of disease."

Recently, IHS announced that as of March 1, 2008, the Wagner Service Unit would not operate as a 24 hour clinic. Senator Thune worked with the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to include language in the bill to ensure that the hours of operation at the Wagner Service Unit would not be reduced.

Senator Thune believes that improving health care is an important step towards improving life on South Dakota's reservations, but that other steps need to be taken. His amendment to study tribal justice systems is designed to broaden the impact of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to improve quality of life on reservations.

"My amendment will aid federal, state, and tribal authorities in understanding the various options that are available to strengthen the tribal justice system and improve public safety on the nation's Indian reservations. I believe that effective law enforcement is necessary to making reservations better places to live."

Senator Thune's amendment would direct the GAO to study how tribal courts currently function and to identify weaknesses that need to be addressed. If signed into law as part of S. 1200, the GAO study would be due to Congress one year after enactment.

In addition to this amendment, Senator Thune has taken several other steps to address the problem of crime in Indian Country:

  • Introduced an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2008 Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations bill that would provide $20 million to U.S. Attorneys to prosecute Native American crimes;

  • Co-sponsored an amendment to increase law enforcement presence in Indian Country;

  • Passed Thune meth hot spots amendment to the Fiscal Year 2008 budget resolution to provide $99 million for COPS meth hot spots grants;

  • Requested that President Bush increase Fiscal Year 2009 funding for tribal detention centers;

  • Requested that Secretary of the Interior Kempthorne ask the BIA to commit more resources to law enforcement on South Dakota's Indian reservations;

  • Pushed the Department of Justice to hold a training course in Pierre in 2007 for tribal law enforcement which focused on combating meth.

  • The Indian Health Care Improvement Act will now be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.