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Indian Health Faces Possible Sequestration Cuts

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Indian Health Faces Possible Sequestration Cuts

Indian Health Faces Possible Sequestration Cuts

Photo by Laurel Morales

Navajo Artist Shonto Begay painted this large mural at a health center in Flagstaff.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- If Congress doesn’t agree on a budget deal by March 1, a series of broad spending cuts -- or sequestration -- will automatically go into effect. The unending stream of doomsday predictions includes deep cuts to housing, food assistance and jobs. Indian health care is one of the targets hardest hit.

If the sequestration lever is pulled, the Indian Health Service, tribal hospitals and clinics would be forced to cut 3,000 inpatient admissions and 800,000 outpatient visits annually, according to a White House fact sheet.

President Barack Obama has said the cuts would harm middle class families, seniors and the most vulnerable. Some would include impoverished Indians in the “most vulnerable” category.

"We’re talking about the poorest of the poor," National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel said after his State of Indian Country speech to tribal leaders in Washington. "It will affect whether or not a young mother may or may not be able to access health care for her unborn child, whether or not elderly people will be able to afford their medications or afford to go to the doctor. It will affect human lives all the way down to the community level."

Keel has asked the federal government to exempt tribal programs from sequestration. And Arizona Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick is also pushing for an exemption. Her district has more Native Americans than any other in the nation.

"The median household income is $7,000 per family," Kirkpatrick said. "So that pretty much puts it in a context of very remote rural area, often lower income, and they really struggle to get access to care and resources."

Tribes also stand to lose $130 million in Interior Department funds that would affect law enforcement, schools and economic development.

Laurel Morales was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2011 to 2020.