The Indian Health Service has agreed to pay Southcentral Foundation $96 million in unpaid costs dating back to 1997, a promising move for some 180 other tribes and tribal organizations around the country that also have claims with the agency, including many in Alaska.
The most important result of the settlement with Southcentral Foundation is that the money will help it improve the health care it offers in Anchorage, the Mat-Su Borough, and numerous villages, said Lloyd Miller, an Anchorage attorney who represents dozens of the tribes and tribal groups.
Southcentral Foundation runs the Anchorage Native Primary Care Center, owns part of the Alaska Native Medical Center and provides health care services throughout Southcentral Alaska to more than 60,000 Alaska Natives and American Indians.
The settlement with Southcentral comes after the Indian Health Service has settled claims with 17 tribes and tribal groups, a squaring up that began last year and included the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. in Bethel in Southwest Alaska for $40 million.
Together, the claims from all the tribes totaled some $2 billion, Miller said. The latest agreement provides confidence that the other tribes and tribal organizations will get their claims quickly resolved.
“I have every reason to believe it will continue, and hopefully that it will be accelerated,” he said.
The Indian Health Service contracts with tribes to provide health care services to Alaska Natives and American Indians, part of longstanding agreements related to the loss of Indian lands. But for years, the agency has not paid what are known as contract support costs that go along with delivering health care, such as expenses related to insurance, audits, and other administrative requirements.
The agency typically underfunded Southcentral Foundation about 10 percent a year, said the organization in a statement.
Miller said a key turning point came in January. Congress, pushed hardest by the Alaska delegation, specified in the appropriations act that the agency must provide compensation for contact support costs.
Sen. Mark Begich in particular, as well as Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep Don Young, played a key role, he said.
“Congressional action is largely responsible for the change in attitude toward the settlements,” Miller said.
Katherine Gottlieb, president of Southcentral Foundation, thanked the delegation. She said Murkowski, Begich and Young have undertaken “exhaustive efforts over the years to press the Indian Health Service to expedite the settlement process and to resolve claims on a fair and just basis.”