Commentary Magazine


Lo, the Poor Indian!

Alexander Pope decried the American Indian’s “untutor’d mind” that “Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind.” But Pope never encountered the Indian Health Service, which delivers what it is pleased to call health care to two million American Indians living on reservations in thirty-five states. “Don’t get sick after June” is the standard advice, for by then the money allocated by Congress has mostly run out.

Indians on reservations are usually poor and often suffer from very high rates of alcoholism, obesity, and the problems that come with those conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. But as the Associated Press reports, “Indian health clinics often are ill-equipped to deal with such high rates of disease, and poor clinics do not have enough money to focus on preventive care. The main problem is a lack of federal money. American Indian programs are not a priority for Congress, which provided the health service with $3.6 billion this budget year.” That’s an annual budget of a measly $1,800 per Indian. No wonder the health statistics of a people that have been guaranteed free health care by the federal government since 1787 are so terrible.

An even larger federal health care system, for veterans, is hardly better. When it was found that thousands of veterans were put at risk for HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases by improperly sterilized equipment used in colonoscopies last February, an investigation was ordered. Three months later, it seems that not much has been done about the problem.

I have an idea. Why not have the federal government demonstrate that it can provide adequate health care to American Indians, a promise it hasn’t kept for 222 years? Then demonstrate it can provide adequate health care to veterans, a promise it hasn’t kept for 79 years. Then demonstrate that it can reform and efficiently run the health insurance system called Medicare, which it has been been making a dog’s breakfast of for the last 44 years. And then, and only then, take over all of American health care.

Or even better, why not have the mainstream media do its job for once and vigorously investigate the federal government’s actual track record in regard to health care? It’s not an impressive résumé for someone applying to run the whole show. Indeed, it’s a more-than-two-hundred-year record of failure, inadequate funding, bureaucratic indifference, and broken promises.

Unfortunately, much of the mainstream media thinks, like Newsweek’s Evan Thomas, that President Obama is “sort of God.” So can you guess what they’ll be hearing in the wind as the nation debates the future of health care?