Federal health care funding for Oklahoma Indians lacking, officials say

Friday, May 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The amount of federal funding Oklahoma receives for Indian health care is far below that of other areas of the country, something one tribal leader calls a "ticking time bomb."

John "Rocky" Barrett, chairman of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and Chad Smith, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, said the lack of health care funding was a major problem. Barrett said the lack of money meant many problems were not being diagnosed.

"Some of the things I see that I have to deny coverage for are just heartbreaking," Dr. Charles Grim, director of the Oklahoma City Area Indian Health Service, said Thursday. "We have to deny thousands of cases of care."

In Oklahoma, he said, his agency spends about $850 per patient compared with $1,350 nationally.

Grim's comments came Thursday at a briefing on issues affecting American Indians in Oklahoma, sponsored by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The briefing focused on the unique patchwork of federal rules governing tribes in Oklahoma, where there are no reservations and rare disputes about land control and compensation.

Grim said Indians are generally less healthy than other segments of the population and that there is a much higher incidence of diabetes among Indians.

Prenatal care is less common, even though it is extremely important given the high diabetes rate, he said.

Congress increased Indian Health Service funding last year, but Grim said it would take $268 million more per year to get the entire nation up to 60 percent of its needed revenue. In the Oklahoma City area, nearly $100 million more a year is needed to get up to the 60 percent level of need.

Bill Anoatubby, governor of the Chickasaw Nation, outlined the problems occurring from the formula used to distribute impact aid --the federal money sent to local schools to compensate for the loss of property taxes on lands such as military bases and Indian reservations.

Anoatubby said the formula discriminates against Oklahoma because there are no reservations in the state. He said his tribe has 2,400 units of Indian housing in south-central Oklahoma that are not included in the tax rolls.

Oklahoma could lose $32 million in impact aid next year because of the way the formula weighs non reservation Indian students, Anoatubby said.

He said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, has proposed restoring enough funding to the impact aid program that the formula would no longer be used. "This must be rectified," Anoatubby said.