National Indian Health Board (NIHB) Chairman and Alaska Area Representative William Smith advocated for tribal health equity at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on Apr. 5. Chairman Smith urged Congress to support President Joseph Biden’s budget request for the 2023 fiscal year, which would authorize nearly $9.3 billion for the Indian Health Service (IHS). 

The President’s request would also classify the IHS budget as “mandatory.” That would exempt it from sequestration, cuts made automatically when overall discretionary funding exceeds statutory limits.

“For Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 and beyond, robust investments are necessary to fulfill the federal trust responsibility and treaty obligation and improve the health of all American Indians/Alaska Natives,” Smith told the committee. “This funding must also empower Tribes to prevent and prepare for public-health emergencies.”

The White House’s budget would also quadruple the IHS’s funding over the next 10 years, to $36.7 billion in the 2032 fiscal year. The money would go to direct health-care services, facilities and information-technology infrastructure, management and operations, and addressing HIV, hepatitis C, opioid use, and maternal mortality.

The proposal to implement a long-term funding plan for IHS and exempt the IHS budget from sequestration is historic for any presidential administration, the NIHB said in a press release Apr. 5.

“It is a bold vision to end the chronic funding inequities and build a comprehensive Indian health care system,” Smith said. “We urge Congress to support the request and work together with the Administration and Tribes to see it passed into law.”

If approved, the funding in the proposed budget would “improve access to high-quality health care, rectify historical underfunding of the Indian health system, reduce existing facility backlogs such as the Healthcare Facilities Construction Priority List, address health inequities, and modernize IHS’ electronic health record system,” the NIHB’s press release says. 

NIHB’s full written testimony can be found here

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