Tester Presses Indian Health Service Director to Strengthen the COVID-19 Response in Indian Country as Administration Works to Dismantle Health Care System

Senator: “There’s a big problem in Indian Country and in Montana they’re seeing COVID infection at about twice the rate they should”

As part of his fight to ensure that Native American communities across Montana have the tools they need to address the rising rate of COVID-19 cases, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today grilled the top Indian Health Service (IHS) official on the agency’s efforts to tackle the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on Tribes and the Trump Administration’s continued efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

During a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing earlier today, Tester demanded that IHS Director Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee expedite congressionally appropriated funding meant to help Tribes respond to the coronavirus pandemic and ensure flexibility of these funds as coronavirus cases rise and the Trump Administration works to dismantle the ACA.

“Having increased revenues as a result of things like Medicaid expansion has been critical for Indian health care and the facilities that service them,” said Tester. “Yet, quite frankly, the Trump Administration is moving full-steam ahead to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. The bottom line here is this: there’s a big problem in Indian Country and in Montana they’re seeing COVID infection at about twice the rate they should.”

Tester continued: “Quite honestly, we need to step up and make sure that the money we have appropriated is getting to them and make sure they have what they need to be able to combat this horrible virus.”

Native Americans make up around 7 percent of the Montana population, but account for 13 percent of the state’s confirmed COVID-19 cases. Congress has appropriated $2.4 billion for IHS, Tribal health programs, and Urban Indian Organizations for efforts to combat the virus, but this funding is not always reaching the communities with the highest need.

Additionally, the Trump Administration recently redoubled its support for a lawsuit that could overturn the ACA, putting millions of Americans—and hundreds of thousands of Montanans—at risk of losing insurance during a pandemic and global economic crisis. Dismantling the ACA would have disastrous effects on Montana’s Native communities where the health care law, as well as Medicaid expansion, have allowed Tribes across the state to provide additional services to their communities.

Tester has led the charge to make sure Montana Tribes have the resources they need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. He has pressed the Administration to work with Native American communities and Tribal leaders in coordinating their response to the outbreak. Tester also called on the Trump Administration to engage with Tribal leaders to make sure that COVID-19 relief resources are directed quickly to where they are most needed, and that the federal government lives up to its trust and treaty responsibilities.

Watch Tester’s full remarks at the Senate Indian Affairs Committee HERE.

Visit tester.senate.gov/coronavirusresources for a list of resources for Montanans during the COVID-19 outbreak.