Committee Approves Noem’s IHS Reform Bill
Washington, D.C. – The House Natural Resources Committee today approved Rep. Kristi Noem’s Indian Health Service (IHS) reforms, a significant step forward for this comprehensive proposal. H.R.5874, the Restoring Accountability in the Indian Health Service Act, seeks to offer better tools for recruiting competent medical staff and leadership, improve care standards, and dramatically increase accountability.
“Today, tribal members are receiving life-threatening ‘care’ from a broken IHS. That urgently needs to change,” said Rep. Noem. “Whether it’s recruiting competent medical staff and hospital leadership, improving care standards or instilling genuine accountability measures, our legislation puts patient care first, helping ensure South Dakota Tribes receive the care their families deserve. I am grateful to Chairman Bishop and the House Natural Resources Committee for working with me and South Dakota’s Tribal community to make the changes families so desperately need.”
“This bill was developed in response to the devastating health care crisis facing our Indian tribes and reservations,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop. “I would like to thank Rep. Noem for her efforts to increase transparency and accountability in the Indian Health Service which will better serve the needs of tribal communities.”
“I want to thank Congresswoman Noem for her hard work and continued support of, not only Lower Brule, but all of Indian Country, especially when it comes to the health and wellness of our people,” said Chairman Boyd Gourneau, Lower Brule Tribe. “I fully support her efforts on this bill!”
“The Rosebud Sioux Tribe is grateful for Rep. Noem’s diligent work to improve the Indian Health Service,” said President William Kindle, Rosebud Sioux Tribe. “Her bill, the Restoring Accountability in the Indian Health Service Act, is a great step toward providing much-needed accountability in the IHS and improving the quality of health care for our people and Native people across the country.”
“Since 2015, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s IHS hospital has seen a decrease in vital services like surgery and OB/GYN, and remains critically understaffed,” said William Bear Shield, Chairman, Unified Health Board of Rapid City. “The IHS continues to excessively rely on expensive contracts and non-IHS medical providers to furnish these services. As Chairman of the Unified Health Board, I have worked with Congresswoman Noem since the first days the CMS issues came to light in the Great Plains. I am grateful to the Congresswoman for taking the federal treaty obligations of health care in Indian County seriously, and for working hard to ensure the federal Indian Health Service gets the improvements, tools, and funding it needs to deliver.”
“As a former member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Health Board, we worked closely with Congresswoman Noem on the legislation she introduced in the House,” said O.J. Semans, former member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Health Board. “It gives me great pleasure to support her efforts in improving health care for Indian Country.”
The Restoring Accountability in the IHS Act offers a series of reforms to the IHS, addressing both medical and administrative challenges. More specifically, the legislation:
Offers Better Tools for Recruiting Competent Medical Staff and Leadership
- Provides incentives to health care professionals to serve in the IHS, including pay flexibility and relocation reimbursements when employees move to high-need areas, as well as a housing voucher program for rental assistance to employees.
- Allows managers to be eligible for the IHS student loan repayment program to incentivize more competent managers to join the agency.
- Provides flexibility for the IHS in hiring and firing.
- Makes volunteering at IHS facilities easier by providing liability protections for medical professionals who want to volunteer at IHS service units and centralizing the agency’s medical credentialing system.
Improves Patient Care Standards
- Requires IHS employees to attend culture training annually that teaches them about the tribe(s) they serve.
- Enhances fiscal accountability by ensuring reports and plans are completed in a timely manner. Failure to comply with the requirements will restrict the IHS’ ability to provide salary increases and bonuses.
- Increases congressional oversight by requiring reports that assess staffing needs, existing protections against whistleblowers, and the frequency and causes of patient harm events.
- Reiterates IHS employees’ right to petition Congress and requires HHS to notify all employees of the IHS of their statutory right to speak with Members of Congress and their staffs.
Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), John Thune (R-SD) and John Hoeven (R-ND).