U.S. Sen. John Thune today joined Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) in introducing the Restoring Accountability in the Indian Health Service Act of 2017, legislation that would improve the quality and delivery of patient care throughout Indian Country. Last year, Thune introduced similar legislation that was ultimately the subject of a June 2016 SCIA field hearing and listening session in Rapid City, South Dakota, to examine the quality of care delivered by the Indian Health Service (IHS).
A lack of oversight, financial integrity, and employee accountability at the IHS has led to the delivery of substandard health care services of patients, families, and whole communities. The bill would increase transparency and accountability at the IHS to ensure Native Americans have access to reliable, quality health care.
“It would be a significant understatement to say tribal members deserve better health care than what they’re accustomed to receiving from IHS,” said Thune. “After hearing about one heartbreaking story after another from tribal members in South Dakota and throughout the Great Plains area, it’s time to move away from talking about reforming IHS and begin making positive and systemic changes that lead to better care and greater oversight. For years, IHS has made hollow commitments to me and my colleagues in Congress to correct many of the problems that are ultimately addressed in this bill, which was formed with significant tribal member input. The bill would make several critical improvements to the delivery of care at IHS facilities, and it would hold IHS accountable to Congress and the community members they serve, more importantly. I look forward to continuing to work with members of the South Dakota tribes and with Sens. Barrasso and Hoeven in doing everything we can to fix the broken IHS system once and for all.”
The bill would improve transparency and accountability at the IHS by:
- Expanding removal and discipline authorities for problem employees at the agency;
- Commissioning Government Accountability Office reports on housing and staffing needs, whistleblower protections, and patient care and harm occurring at the IHS;
- Providing requirements for the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue standards to measure the timeliness of health care services provided at IHS facilities;
- Requiring the IHS to develop and implement a service-wide centralized credentialing system for licensed health professionals seeking to provide health care services at multiple facilities; and
- Ensuring the inspector general of HHS investigates all patient deaths in which the IHS is alleged to be involved by act or omission.
The bill would strengthen staff recruitment and retention at the IHS by:
- Providing the secretary of HHS with direct hiring and other authorities to avoid long delays in the traditional hiring process;
- Providing authority for health professionals to volunteer their health care services and be provided liability protections when working at an IHS service unit;
- Addressing gaps in IHS personnel by giving the secretary of HHS flexibility to create competitive pay scales and provide temporary housing assistance for medical professionals; and
- Expanding the eligibility for certain IHS employees to participate in the loan repayment program by including degrees in business administration with an emphasis in health care management, health administration, hospital administration, or public health.
The Restoring Accountability in the Indian Health Service Act of 2017 is based on extensive feedback and information gathered by SCIA since 2010.
U.S. Reps. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.), and Markwayne Mullen (R-Okla.) today introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.