Johnny Depp will have a hard time saving American Indians from Paul Ryan's budget
Johnny Depp plans to remake Tonto as an equal in the film 'The Lone Ranger.' Equality is harder to find in the real world. Paul Ryan’s budget would drastically cut health services for American Indians – a population with some of the highest poverty, disease, and mortality rates in the world.
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Depp, now filming the Lone Ranger movie in Navajo Nation in the southwestern United States, wants to reinvent the relationship between the crime-fighting Lone Ranger and his iconic sidekick, Tonto, who he says Hollywood has always seen “as the second class...citizen.” Depp says he “wants to take the way Indians were treated throughout the history of cinema, and turn it on its head.”
As hard as that may be, casting Indians as equals will be easier to do onscreen than off.
For example, Republican Paul Ryan’s proposed budget before Congress would deal a major blow to the health-care services of Indian country, which already faces some of the highest rates of diabetes and infant mortality in the US – and the world. Taking away the few health services these Americans have will only make it harder to address the deeper issues American Indian populations face.
Specifically, the Ryan budget would eliminate all of the proposed 2013 increases and slash funding for the Indian Health Service (IHS) by 5.4 percent, requiring the IHS to close hospitals and clinics, reduce medical care referrals, and lay off employees. The IHS, together with the Tribes and a few urban Indian programs, provides the primary health care system for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
As it is, the Indian Health Service (IHS) estimates that it receives an average of only about 56.5 percent of the funding it actually needs to deliver basic medical and public health services to the populations it serves. As a discretionary budget item, Indian health care receives about half the per capita federal funding that Congress provides for federal prisoners.
The former senator from North Dakota, Democrat Byron Dorgan, warned in 2009 that the shortages and poor quality of health care for American Indians has created a “full-scale health care rationing going on on Indian reservations.” He told The New York Times: “We’ve got the first Americans living in Third World conditions.”
If adopted, Mr. Ryan’s budget would eliminate needed health-care services by 14,000 inpatient visits and more than 5,500 outpatient visits for specialized care. It would also deal the IHS its sole deficit in at least the past 15 years. Never before has the federal IHS budget been reduced from the previous year.
Recently, things had been looking a little better. The Obama administration has proposed a moderate 2.7 percent increase in the IHS budget for FY 2013 – a desperately needed $116 million above the previous year’s appropriation. That amount includes $81 million for continued construction of two outpatient facilities in Arizona, home to Navajo Nation, where the new Lone Ranger movie is being filmed.
At his 2011 Tribal Nations Conference, President Obama stated that closing the gaps in health disparities is “not just a question of policy, it’s a question of our values, it’s a test of who we are as a nation.’”