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Indian Health Services receives $186 million for 2017

June 16, 2016

By Jennifer Garvin

Washington — The House Appropriations Committee approved legislation June 15 that includes $186 million for the Indian Health Service's Division of Oral Health for fiscal year 2017.

The Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill passed 31-18. In addition to IHS, the legislation includes funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Forest Service. The Senate version of the bill was approved June 16 and also includes funding for IHS.

The $186 million for IHS is an increase of more than $7.7 million over the 2016 funding level and also includes a transfer of $800,000 to fill vacant dental health positions in headquarters.

Report language accompanying the bill could make it easier for dentists to volunteer at tribal health care facilities. Also, the committee encouraged IHS to coordinate with the Bureau of Indian Education to "integrate preventive dental care and mental health care at schools within the Bureau system."
"The committee understands that the geographic isolation of Indian Tribes makes it difficult to attract dentists and may limit access to care as tooth decay continues to be a problem," the report said. "One way to help address access would be to allow volunteer dentists to treat patients who can provide important services that will improve access to oral health care."

To make it easier for dentists to volunteer, the committee directed IHS to look at the models used by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to develop a pilot project that establishes a centralized credentialing system.

The Senate version of the Interior appropriations bill, passed 16-14, and has similar report language.

"The committee is concerned that tooth decay in Indian Country has reached epidemic proportions," the report stated, noting that preschool children of American Indian and Alaska Natives have the highest level of tooth decay of any population group in the United States.

"The committee understands that the geographic isolation of tribal health facilities makes it difficult to attract dentists to serve as providers and believes that one alternative to improve access to dental care is to allow volunteer dentists to treat patients," the report continued, "however, the Committee has heard reports that delays in getting approved healthcare providers credentialed to work at tribal or Indian Health Service facilities have resulted in candidates abandoning their efforts to volunteer because they could not be processed in a timely fashion."

To fix the issue, the committee urged IHS to explore establishing a centralized credentialing system similar to the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. 

The Indian Health Service, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for providing federal health services to some 2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives who belong to 567 federally recognized tribes in 35 states.