Let me define my position on health care for all Americans by saying that I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I am instead a Conservative Independent with a clear view of what is happening on the left and the right of me because, for the most part, I sit squarely in the middle.
Two of the largest ethnic voting blocs in America are the African Americans and the Hispanics. Two of the largest groups of people without health insurance of any kind are African Americans and Hispanics. Therefore I find it puzzling that the Republican Party would dramatically alienate these two large voting blocs by its unhealthy stand on health insurance.
Both parties realize there is something seriously wrong with America's health care system. In an effort to undermine most of the proposals offered by the Democrats, the Republicans denigrated the Indian Health Service by attempting to use it as an example of a failed health care system. South Dakota's lone Congressional Representative, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin defended the I.H.S. saying, "This is like comparing apples and oranges."
What is it the Republicans find so abhorrent in the health care proposals now on the table?
The single-payer system is a government-run health care delivery system that covers all citizens and it is paid for by tax dollar. The two countries now under attack by those opposed to what they label as Obamacare are England and Canada. There are no proposals under serious consideration the advocate a single payer plan. It is easy for a media standing to the right to find individuals opposed to the systems used in England, Canada and in the Indian Health Service, but if they dug deeper they would soon find that the majority of the people favor their own systems by about 90 percent.
In fact a recent news report indicates that the people of Canada can expect to live two years longer than the average American citizen. The fact that Native Americans have one of the shortest life expectancies in America, if taken at face value, would definitely jeopardize the position of the Indian Health Service.
But it cannot be taken at face value because there are so many underlying causes for the shorter life expectancies of American Indians. Many of the problems can be placed at the doorstep of deep social and economic problems such as lack of adequate housing, extreme cases of alcoholism and drug addiction, chronic depression caused by lack of self-esteem and self-respect leading to an extremely high incidence of suicide especially among teenagers, the vicious cycle of abuse as remnants of the boarding schools where the abused children grew up and became the abusers, the consistent shortage of funds for the Indian Health Service that generated the saying, "Don't get sick after June" because the funds usually run out by then, four months before the new fiscal year, unemployment rates as high as 80 percent on some reservations, and the sheer isolation of Indian reservations that makes it hard to recruit good doctors.
Most Americans fail to understand that the Indian health care is guaranteed to the tribes that had it written into the treaties they signed as sovereign nations with the United States of America. In exchange the Indian tribes surrendered millions of acres of some of the most prime land to be found anywhere, land that helped to make the United States on of the richest nations in the world. However, Indian Health Service was also extended to Indian tribes that had never had this guarantee written into their treaties, if they had treaties with the United States at all. Some so-called "treaty tribes" feel that his is why the services guaranteed to them in treaties, services such as health, education, housing, government and jobs, have become so deluded.
And so things are not always as they appear. The Indian Health Service and the single-payer systems of England and Canada have some problems, but for the most part, they are working.
All of the systems now under discussion need to be addressed and whether it is a single-payer, pooling, public option, health-insurance cooperative, individual mandate, portability, rescission or employer mandate, there is something is each of these proposals that merit discussion. People are suffering and dying because of the health care mess we now have in America and you can take that to the bank.
So, as an Independent, I watch the shouting matches, the misinformation, and the outright lies passing across the health care argument scene and I am bothered by most of it. It has brought out the meanness in too many otherwise good Americans and it must stop.
Health care reform is badly needed and that is the bottom line.
(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the 1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2008. He can be reached at email@example.com)