Kimberly Teehee, Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs: Hi, I’m Kimberly Teehee, Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs in the White House Domestic Policy Counsel. President Obama’s top domestic priority is to strengthen the Health Insurance System to cover everyone, to get spiraling costs down and to improve quality. Like you, I have been monitoring closely the dialog on health insurance reform and there is much misinformation about our efforts to improve health care for all Americans and that’s why I want to put to rest recent misinformation about the Indian Health Service.
For example, I have heard your concerns about recent reports that compare the Indian Health Service to health insurance, which is an inaccurate comparison. And, shame on those people who use scare tactics by questioning the stability of the Indian Health Service system. The United States provides comprehensive, culturally appropriate, health care service to American Indians and Alaskan Natives as part of its federal trust responsibility to its first Americans. The Indian Health Service, which is a federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, provides clinical and public health services such as doctors visits, check-ups, screenings, diabetes prevention and treatment, mental health and substance abuse services, and many, many more services -- and often in remote locations. The Indian Health Service receives annual funding from Congress but it struggles to meet the growing demand for service each year. By contrast, health insurance provides a guarantee to an individual of a defined set of benefits for a price, while the Indian Health Service accepts insurance payments for care it provides. It is not an insurance plan itself.
Another myth I would like to correct is this notion that health insurance reform will dismantle the Indian Health Service. That is false. Not a single proposal will discontinue the Indian Health Service. American Indians and Alaskan Natives will continue to have access to their Indian Health Care facilities. That will not change. President Obama supports strengthening and modernizing the Indian Health Service system. Health insurance reform, however, will provide all Americans with new options to purchase insurance coverage.
And finally, it is unfortunate that recent press reports seek to scare Americans about health insurance reform by highlighting the Indian Health Service as a bad example of government run health care, despite the historic under-funding of Indian health, many entities have developed innovative and award winning approaches to provide health care to their communities and some have built facilities with their own resources in rural areas such as in Alaska, Oregon, Oklahoma, North Carolina, to name a few, and many of these programs serve as successful models for other rural health programs. President Obama recognizes, however, that the Indian Health Service is under-funded and that’s why he proposed a 13% increase in the FY 2010 budget, the largest in over 20 years, and why he invested 590 million in the Indian Health Service in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. President Obama recognizes that funding increases do not make up for past efficiencies but it does reflect his support and his commitment to the Indian Health Service system. Our Native American community deserves the truth about health insurance reform. We all have a lot at stake in this health reform debate and all of us together -- working together, working with Congress, can address the health care crisis. I invite you to go to whitehouse.gov for more information about this issue and please feel free to share this video with friends, family, neighbors and colleagues. Thank you.