Jason Salsman/Multimedia Producer
OK Congressman’s ‘Pay Our Doctors’ Act defeated 8-4
WASHINGTON — An amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2019 that would have guaranteed funding for Indian Health Services for a full fiscal year, despite the partial government shutdown, has been blocked.
The amendment, H.R. 195 or the ‘Pay Our Doctors Act,’ was authored by Oklahoma Congressman and Cherokee Nation citizen Markwayne Mullin.
Mullin issued a statement Jan. 16 on his website that indicated democrats on the House Rules Committee rule defeated the bill 8-4 along party lines.
“I’m disappointed that my colleagues across the aisle did not think it necessary that the federal government carry out its trust responsibilities to provide health care to Native Americans,” Mullin said in the statement. “Native American health care does not belong in political crossfire. The government has a federal obligation to Indian Country.”
Due to the shutdown, tribal hospitals and clinics are forced to use remaining roll-over funds from the previous year to continue providing services.
If there are no roll-over funds available, some tribes may have to furlough or lay-off staff.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Secretary of Health Shawn Terry spoke with Mvskoke Media last week and indicated MCN health facilities would remain open.
However, the tribe’s operations are being affected by the shutdown with every day that passes and Terry says it’s “truly an emergency.”
“We have not received our payment from IHS since Dec. 7,” Terry said. “We spend almost $300,000 a day. Every day we’re continuing to tighten our belt another notch, and there will come a day when we can’t tighten it anymore.”
Terry said that MCNDH has frozen all new hires with the exception of urgent direct patient care positions, and also stopped all capital expenditures for general maintenance to facilities and equipment.
MCNDH Chief Operating Officer Rhonda Beaver lamented that plans are now on hold for a Department of Justice grant they were awarded to combat opioid abuse.
“We had plans to develop a pain management clinic and the funds from the grant are on hold,” Beaver said. “We’ve got patients that have real pain, it needs to be addressed and our plans focused on this clinic and those plans have come to a halt.”
Terry said it was important to understand while MCNDH is doing everything it can to have no disruptions in services, it was critical that citizens and patients continue to work with the department on getting enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance plans to give them the information they need for effective third-party billing.
“The (federal) money we receive takes care of about 30% of our need,” Terry said. “The way we offset that 70% is by collecting Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance.”
Terry indicated the money collected from third parties goes to adding doctors, nurses, contract health services and generally expanding what they are able to provide.
“We’re extremely lucky that we’re able to keep our doors open right now and we’re committed to doing that,” Terry said.
“But by all means, people should be contacting their Senators and their Congressmen and telling them that IHS has to get funded and we need their help with that.”
On Jan. 17, Congressman Mullin continued to urge the consideration of the ‘Pay Our Doctors Act,’ in a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“The federal government is currently in violation of hundreds of treaties, trusts, and contracts made with Tribal Nations for failing to provide health care to American Indian and Alaskan Natives (AI/AN),” the letter stated.
“The federal government must fulfill its obligation by providing health care to Indian Country. Anything other than a full execution of those responsibilities is unacceptable.”