President Bush vetoed SCHIP twice, denying the renewal of the health care program from children whose families can’t afford insurance but don’t qualify for Medicaid. Now, as this editorial from the New York Times notes, he’s threatening to do the same for the Native American population.
A bipartisan bill to begin repairing this shameful situation is now on the Senate floor. It takes aim at such long neglected needs as the plight of urban Indians, who account for two-thirds of the nation’s 4.1 million tribal population. Most of the American Indians and Alaska natives living in cities are either ineligible for, or unable to reach, the limited help of the Indian Health Service’s reservation-based programs. During the Bush years the White House has sought to eliminate — not bolster — the severely underfinanced Urban Indian Health Program.
Studies have established that Native Americans suffer worse than average rates of depression, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The Senate bill would improve treatment for these problems, as well as address alcohol and substance abuse, and suicide among Indian youth. It would expand scholarship help so more American Indians could pursue careers in health care.
The administration insists it wants to improve health care for Native Americans. But it objects to the most basic parts of the Senate measure, including its provisions for better urban health programs and its proposal to provide better access to Medicaid and Medicare. Officials also reject the bill’s proposal to build new clinics because it would require the government to pay construction workers prevailing local wages and benefits.
It goes without saying that our treatment of the native population is legendary for its cruelty, deception and racism; treatment which is no doubt responsible for many of the medical problems that this bill is designed to address. And it’s no surprise that the Bush administration would continue that sad legacy.