Since it began nearly a month ago, officials in the Trump administration have insisted that mandatory agencies and services in the health care system will not be affected by the country’s longest-running government shutdown ever. Well, maybe someone forgot to tell that to the country’s Native American population in California, Michigan, New Mexico, Washington, Wyoming and many other states.
The effects of the shuttering of federal agencies and programs over the last thirty-five days are disproportionately felt by Native American communities, many of which are reliant on federal funds to pay health care and other essential costs. Despite suggestions from the White House that people will simply “make adjustments”, many vulnerable populations who depend on the federal safety net are understandably concerned about the status of their health coverage.
For remote and impoverished Native American populations, the health care situation has reached a crisis point. The coffers of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service are nearly empty and federal treaty obligations that finance critical areas, like hospitals, clinics and other medical services are not being paid. In some areas, clinics remain open, but just barely. Many are now operating at a level hovering somewhere around “bare bones”, with only patients with life-threatening conditions being referred to outside specialists. If the government shutdown goes on much longer, people will really begin to suffer and eventually, it could cost some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens their lives.