Bill introduced to reform IHS

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WASHINGTON — On May 19, U.S. Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced S 2953, the Indian Health Service Accountability Act of 2016.

The act will improve transparency and accountability at the IHS by:

  • Expanding removal and discipline authorities for problem employees at the agency;
  • Providing the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with direct hiring and other authorities to avoid long delays in the traditional hiring process;
  • Requiring tribal consultation prior to hiring area directors, hospital CEOs and other key leadership positions;
  • Commissioning Government Accountability Office reports on staffing and professional housing needs;
  • Improving protections for employees who report violations of patient safety requirements;
  • Mandating that the secretary of HHS provide timely IHS spending reports to Congress; and
  • Ensuring the Inspector General of HHS investigates all patient deaths in which the IHS is alleged to be involved by act or omission.

The act also addresses staff recruitment and retention shortfalls at IHS by:

  • Addressing gaps in IHS personnel by giving the secretary of HHS flexibility to create competitive pay scales and provide temporary housing assistance for medical professionals;
  • Improving patient-provider relationships and continuity of care by providing incentives to employees; and
  • Giving the secretary of HHS the ability to reward employees for good performance and finding innovative ways to improve patient care, promote patient safety, and eliminate fraud, waste, and abuse.