Rep. Kristi Noem today offered testimony on H.R.2662, the Restoring Accountability in the Indian Health Service Act, as the House Natural Resources Committee began its consideration of the legislation. The testimony comes as senior staff from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) travel to South Dakota to visit the IHS hospital at Pine Ridge. Noem requested leadership from HHS during a House Ways & Means Committee hearing earlier this month and has been pleased to see this proactive visit occur so quickly.

“While some progress has been made in addressing the health care crisis in Indian Country, it’s nowhere near enough,” said Noem.  “It’s no exaggeration to say that reforming the IHS is a life or death issue, making it critical reforms are done correctly. Not only does this IHS reform legislation offer better tools for recruiting competent staff and improving care standards, but we introduce a new level of accountability to ensure the agency is properly serving tribal communities.”

For years, federal reports have documented shocking cases of mismanagement and poorly delivered care at Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities.  The IHS was left to make improvements on its own, but despite funding increases almost every year, the agency produced increasingly poor care.  

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 hospitals or service units and centralizing the agency’s medical credentialing system.

Improves Patient Care Standards

  • Requires the IHS to develop standards to measure wait times.
  • Requires IHS employees to attend culture training annually that teaches them about the tribe(s) they serve.

Increases Accountability

  • 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.

Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), John Thune (R-SD) and John Hoeven (R-ND) have introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

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