Obama's Health Care Point Man Was Thrown Under the Bus

11/09/2010 11:35 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Tim Giago Founder, Native American Journalists Association

The man who had spent months working up a health care program for President Barack Obama, former United States Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, had an accounting error in his taxes. Although the amount of the error was larger than the tax errors that many of us make year in and year out, he was thrown under the bus by Obama's dubious advisers.

Daschle even wrote one of the best books ever on the problems with the healthcare system in America; Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis , including comprehensive references to Indian health care.

In other words, he was a man prepared to take the health care reform bill to the people, but he was denied that opportunity because of an error made by his accountant, an error that he immediately corrected.

His replacement, Kathleen Sebelius, a great lady in her own right, did not have the background or the immense technical and scientific knowledge Daschle had and it became obvious when she and her cohorts tried to explain the health care reform efforts that immediately became known as "Obamacare" by the general public. Most Americans immediately turned against it and it was one of the key factors in this past election.

There are few Americans who do not believe there is something seriously wrong with the health care system in America. If one is very poor health insurance of any kind is generally out of reach. And when the economy hit its low point and so many middle class Americans lost their jobs, it usually meant they also lost their health insurance.

While these unpredictable events were happening across this country the cost of medical care continued to rise with no end in sight.

As a part of the act, a provision was included to reform Indian health care, and one of the most neglected and mismanaged systems in America not only came under scrutiny, but there was an actual increase in funding that would go toward providing better health care to the Native American people.

President Obama brought in knowledgeable and highly experienced Native American health care professionals to not only head the Indian Health Service, but to be placed in high positions along the food chain that analyzes and provides services to the I.H.S.

One must understand that infant mortality, deaths from diabetes, and all of the other factors that come with poor healthcare have led to one of the great declines in life expectancy among the Indian people that is unprecedented in any other race of people. As I have written about so many times in the past 10 years, the suicide rate among Native American teenagers is three times that of the rest of American society.

All of these serious health issues are now being addressed because of the American Indian Health Care Reform Act. Health care to Native Americans is not a charitable act and it has never been. When the United States of America set its eyes on the rich lands held by Native Americans, the land was acquired through treaties with the Indian nations. In exchange for the millions of acres surrendered there were certain provisions written into the treaties and health care "in perpetuity" was one of them.

There is a saying among the Lakota that if a man or woman lives to be 60, they can expect a long life. That's right, 60, an age when most white Americans are thinking about retiring and enjoying many more productive years.

Every week when I publish Native Sun News I look at the obituaries and I run an average age at death in my mind and I am always appalled at the sinking age averages. Most weeks it averages about 50 years of age. I also look at the number of infant deaths that occur over a month's time and that also causes me to shake my head in wonder. In one short period last year, three months, there were eight infant deaths on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Eight deaths! If this happened in a community like Rapid City there would be an immediate sounding of alarms.

I have known Tom Daschle for 30 years and I know in my heart that this man would never do anything deliberately to violate the tax laws. Hi accountant made the mistake and he corrected it, but in their eagerness to show that they are pure of heart and mind, Obama's henchmen recommended that Obama should dump Daschle.

The mess they now find themselves in on healthcare reform makes this dreadful decision stand as the first show of amateurism by the Obama administration and the chickens have come home to roost. If only Obama had had the guts to support Daschle.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the editor and publisher of Native Sun News. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1990. His weekly column won the H. L. Mencken Award in 1985. He was the first Native American ever inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame. He can be reached at