recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. IHS currently provides health services to approximately 1.4 million American Indians and Alaska Natives belonging to more than 557 federally recognized tribes in 35 states.

The provision of these health services is based on treaties, judicial determinations, and acts of Congress that result in a unique government-to-government relationship between the tribes and the federal government. IHS, the principal health care provider, is organized as 12 area offices located throughout the United States. These 12 areas contain 550 health care delivery facilities operated by IHS and tribes, including: 49 hospitals; 214 health centers; and 280 health stations, satellite clinics, and Alaska village clinics. Almost 44 percent of the $2.6 billion IHS budget is transferred to the tribes to manage their own health care programs.

Poverty and low education levels strongly affect the health status of the Indian people. Approximately 26 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives live below the poverty level, and more than one-third of Indians over age 25 who reside in reservation areas have not graduated from high school. Common inpatient diagnoses include diabetes, unintentional injuries, alcoholism, and substance abuse.


In identifying ways to improve the quality enhancement processes of government health care programs, it is important to understand both the needs and expectations of today’s beneficiaries and the trends likely to affect these needs and expectations in the future. As beneficiaries’ needs and expectations evolve over time, so, too, must the government health care programs. This section highlights two important trends: the increase in chronic care needs and expectations for patient-centered care.

Chronic Care Needs

Trends in the epidemiology of health and disease and in medical science and technology have profound implications for health care delivery. Chronic conditions (defined as never resolved conditions, with continuing impairments that reduce the functioning of individuals) are now the leading cause of illness, disability, and death in the United States and affect almost half the U.S. population (Hoffman et al., 1996). Most older people have at least one chronic condition, and many have more than one (Administration on Aging, 2001). Fully 30 percent of those aged 65–74, and over 50 percent of those aged 75 and older report a limitation caused by a chronic condition (Administration on Aging, 2001). The proportion

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