Federal Cuts Threaten Healthcare System For Alaska Natives

Dermot Cole | Alaska Dispatch | October 23, 2013

The 10-year federal “sequestration” plan of steady cuts could devastate the healthcare system that Alaska Natives rely on, speakers at a conference of tribal leaders said Wednesday.

A 2011 law approved by Congress called for spending cuts of about $1 trillion over a decade, with most of the reductions in the so-called “discretionary” portion of the federal budget.

The Indian Health Service had a $228 million budget cut this year, with more to come each year, while the Veteran’s Administration medical system, as well as Medicaid and Medicare, escaped the sequestration knife. The IHS works with tribal organizations to provide healthcare services to 142,000 Alaska Natives at health centers, clinics and hospitals, costing several hundred million dollars every year.

Victor Joseph, the health director for the Tanana Chiefs Conference, said if the automatic budget cuts to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other agencies continue, the impact will be enormous.