Monday, November 19, 2007

Winding down and winding up

Tonight was the last lecture for my class this semester. Next week we present our research papers. There are only four of us. At the end of tonight's class our instructor asked us to pick the order of our presentations. One of my fellow students, M, opined that she did not want to go after me. After a few more thrashing abouts by my fellow students, I crossed my arms and sat back in my chair and said "I'll go last if you want. No problem."

It's not that I feel incredibly cocky, really. I just really know the material I've been researching. After all, as I explained to my instructor in an email a week ago, I have enough notes (REALLY) to write a text book.

My paper is on the Indian Health Service and whether it makes a good model for universal health care in the United States. In short, when it was founded in 1955 it certainly had a lot going for it. The organization took a holistic approach towards the health of its service population. The focus went far beyond hospital beds. A lot of attention was given towards improved sanitation and prevention of communicable diseases. Sadly, the Service has been underfunded in the face of the rising costs of medical care and the increase in size of the service population (1.9%/year). And, while the health status of American Indians and Alaska Natives has improved over the last fifty years, this minority population is still one of the poorest and sickest populations in the nation.

The system has been forced to resort to virtual rationing for non-emergent services, a situation not very different from many countries with various flavors of universal health care. Since the conditions of health care delivery within the IHS are not something the general U.S. population would tolerate, at this time, I do not think it is a good model for potential use as a universal health care system in the U.S.

Here's an amusing and shame-inducing fact: We spend less per capita on Indian health care than we do on health care for inmates of the Federal prison system (and less than health insurance for Federal employees, or Medicare/Medicaid recipients). As a theoretically comprehensive health care system, to spend so little per person is appalling. However the morbidity and mortality statistics reflect our investment in the system. For starters, American Indians and Alaska Natives have a life expectancy of approximately six years shorter than the general U.S. population. (Go figure.)

Most of my class mates have heard me drone on about the situation, and two have admitted that it really depresses them. Heck, it depresses me. I am 1/16 American Indian, which is virtually negligible. However, it offends me how poorly we treat the native population of this country. We leveraged vast swaths of land and resources from their hands, tried to stamp out their ancestral languages and cultures, and treat them like retarded step children who can't be expected to care for themselves or to succeed without massive hand-holding on our part.

Pardon me, this is an old annoyance that never loses its ability to get me riled up.

Wish me luck with my presentation. While there are only three other students and an instructor to inculcate with my thinking on this topic, maybe they'll spread the word on how horridly the U.S. government has treated this population, at the very least in regards to health care.


Summer said...

Working in elementary school we don't delve deeply into Native American heritage and the attrocities we committed against them. One time when discussing how the Spainards took over the Maya and Inca people of Mexico, stole their riches and land I asked if that sounded at all familiar to them. Not one student made the connection of how we did the same to Native Americans. (I will never get used to that, Indians they will always be) I suppose after all they are in 5th grade but that is a part of history that we don't dwell on.

briwei said...

You certainly seem armed with the facts. And a bit of passion. This seems like it might be a good paper to have published. Especially around Thanksgiving time.

barbie2be said...

i feel the same way as i am also 1/16th american indian. i was so pissed off by how my mother was treated/cared for by her doctors and by the tribe when she worked in klamath falls before she died. i kept telling them something was wrong with her and they kept telling me there wasn't and i should shut up about it.