House of Representatives approves Rep. Gosar funding increase for Native American dental care

By Craig Palmer, ADA News staff

Washington—Dentist/Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) asked the House of Representatives July 26 to approve a $4.3 million plus funding increase to advance the oral health of Native Americans, focusing House attention during the rancorous debt limit debate on the less pressing and necessary business of congressional appropriations.

Rep. Gosar: Asks House of Representatives July 26 for funding boost for the oral health of Native Americans. He is shown here addressing the 2010 ADA House of Delegates. Photo credit: Photo by EZ Event Photography.

“I would like to make it clear on this floor tonight that this reallocation of funds is explicitly intended to fund dental health programs within the Indian Health Service at the level recommended by the administration. The United States government took on long ago a number of treaty obligations to our Native people, and health care was among them. In particular, I cannot state strongly enough how imperative it is that Indian tribes have their efforts in the area of oral health fully funded.”

Rep. Gosar appealed to lawmakers as a practicing dentist before his election to Congress and in the context of “epidemic” tooth decay among American Indian and Alaska Native children, his bipartisan arguments cutting against the grain of partisan bickering over debt limit legislation.

“As someone who has practiced chair side dentistry for 25 years, I know firsthand the profound value of oral health, particularly for children. Oral health care access early in life is shown to be a critical aspect of primary preventative care. This is especially true in the Native American community, which I am proud to serve as a representative of Arizona, which has 21 federally recognized tribes.

“In many Native communities, between 25-50 percent of preschool children have such extensive tooth decay that they require full mouth restoration under general anesthesia, compared to less than 1 percent for non-Native children,” Dr. Gosar said. “And so I offer this amendment and encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support it for the sake of these Native children, to whom we have an obligation.”

Dentist/Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) immediately rose to address the House. “You’re going to hear from the entire dental caucus tonight,” he said. “Congressman Gosar from Arizona and myself are the two dentists that are in Congress, so it might not surprise you that I support the gentleman’s amendment. I appreciate his sincere efforts to address the obligations, both trust obligations and treaty obligations, and moral obligations, that we have with our Indian brothers and sisters across this country.

“Dental decay is the most prevalent disease in the United States, and as the gentleman from Arizona said, it’s 300 percent more likely in Native Americans than it is in the general population. That’s unacceptable. We have to do something about it. It means that we have to meet the contract obligations that we have.” Rep. Simpson chairs the Interior appropriations subcommittee.

The House on a voice vote quickly accepted the amendment to an appropriations bill providing funds for the Department of the Interior. It was uncertain when the House would get through other amendments and act on a final bill.

Rep. Gosar’s amendment would transfer $4,367,000 from administrative accounts within the Department of the Interior to the Indian Health Service with the intent, he said, of providing “enough funding for IHS dental health programs to match the president’s request.”

In a statement for the ADA News, Rep. Gosar said, “As so many of us have seen in our practices, serious dental decay in our pediatric patients is highly linked to chronic health problems for a lifetime. These problems are far worse for American Indian children. I am hoping my efforts in Congress will help those who are fighting these issues on the front lines and I am very pleased that the House passed my amendment.”

The Association testified May 3 on funding for Indian Health Service dental appropriations.

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