updated 9/30/2005 6:23:59 PM ET 2005-09-30T22:23:59

American Indians often do not have adequate access to health care, congressional investigators said Friday.

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The Government Accountability Office said many government-funded Indian Health Service facilities do not provide adequate behavioral health or specialty dental care. The agency also falls short in providing care for non-urgent conditions such as arthritis, allergies and chronic pain, investigators said.

“Most of the facilities we visited lacked the equipment necessary for certain ancillary services and had few medical specialists on site,” GAO said.

The report said many American Indians and Native Alaskans do not have means of transportation and are not able to travel long distances to IHS facilities. Long wait times between the scheduling of an appointment and delivery of service are also a problem, investigators said.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., the chairman and ranking Democrat of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, requested the report.

Dorgan said Friday the agency, which is part of the Interior Department, is “dramatically underfunded” by Congress.

“It’s not surprising, but it’s still a big disappointment,” Dorgan said of the report.

The Indian Health Service provides health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives in 35 states. Its annual budget is about $2.6 billion.

Indian health care facilities “have varied in the health care services they provide for Native Americans, and in some cases this has adversely affected the ability of Native Americans to obtain needed services,” the report said.

Native Americans living in areas served by the IHS have shorter life spans than the U.S. population as a whole. GAO noted that diseases such as diabetes, as well as homicide and suicide, are also more prevalent among American Indians.

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