Problems at the Indian Health Service are snowballing as concerns about quality grow and a mishandled investigation into sexual assault allegations are pulling the agency into the battle over Medicare for All.
Scrutiny of the agency heated up in February when an investigation by the PBS documentary series “Frontline” and the Wall Street Journal reported that the IHS routinely hired physicians with troubled backgrounds. The investigation centered on the pediatrician Stanley Patrick Weber, who was allowed to treat children at multiple IHS facilities despite suspicions of misconduct and abuse.
As a result, lawmakers are renewing efforts to find a way to improve long-standing quality issues at the IHS. Some of the ideas include giving tribes more of an incentive to contract with private facilities and others include injecting more funding into the program.
But in the near term, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced that they want the IHS to answer for quality deficiencies. “Despite repeated investigations by Congress and other federal watchdog agencies, these recent press reports indicate that patient care does not seem to be improving at these IHS-operated hospitals,” committee leaders wrote in a letter to IHS administrators. “We must find a way forward to protect IHS patients so that all American Indians and Alaska Natives receive the best care possible.”
An IHS statement said that the agency is making strides to boost quality at its facilities, including rolling out an Office of Quality in December 2018.
“Our dedicated staff at IHS continues to improve healthcare service delivery and critical public health services throughout the health system,” according to the statement. “For example, IHS has seen the rates of kidney failure from diabetes decline the fastest since it began using population health and team-based approaches to diabetes and kidney care.”