American Indian and Alaska Native veterans in the Indian Health Service: Health status, utilization, and cost

PLoS One. 2022 Apr 1;17(4):e0266378. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0266378. eCollection 2022.


Purpose: Many rural American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) veterans receive care from the Indian Health Service (IHS). United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has reimbursement agreements with some IHS facilities and tribal programs and seeks to expand community partnerships in tribal areas, but details of how AIAN veterans use IHS are unknown. We aimed to assess the health status, service utilization patterns, and cost of care of veterans who use IHS.

Methods: We used comprehensive and integrated IHS data to compare health status, health service utilization and treatment cost of veterans (n = 12,242) to a matched sample of non-veterans (n = 12,242). We employed logistic, linear, or negative binomial regressions as appropriate, by sex and overall.

Findings: Compared to non-veterans, veterans had lower odds of having hypertension, renal disease, all-cause dementia, and alcohol or drug use disorders, but had similar burden of other conditions. In service utilization, veterans had lower hospital inpatient days; patterns were mixed across outpatient services. Unadjusted treatment costs for veterans and non-veterans were $3,923 and $4,145, respectively; veteran adjusted treatment costs were statistically lower. Differences in significance by sex were found for health conditions and service use.

Conclusions: AIAN veterans, compared to AIAN non-veterans, were not less healthy, nor did they require more intensive or more costly care under IHS. Our results indicate the viability and importance of expanding IHS-VA partnerships in community care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alaska Natives*
  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American*
  • United States
  • United States Indian Health Service
  • Veterans*