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WASHINGTON – A federal judge here has ordered the U.S. government to pay $7.4 million to the Seneca Nation of Indians to make up for underfunded health care services in 2010 and 2011, the Senecas said Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled that Indian Health Services, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, underestimated the number of patients served by Seneca Nation health clinics by about a third over that two-year period, meaning the Senecas got a third less federal health care aid than they really deserved.

The ruling came as good news to Seneca Nation President Barry S. Snyder Sr.

“The data is the data, and records don’t lie,” Snyder said. “We are pleased that Judge Collyer restored this lost funding so that we can ensure the delivery of services to the Seneca people who entrust us with their care.”

Then-Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter first complained about the underfunding in a 2011 letter to Indian Health Services. In the letter, Porter charged that the agency undercounted the number of patient visits to Seneca health clinics by 12,150 in fiscal 2010, and undercounted the number of Senecas eligible for Indian health care by 2,034.

Porter said in the letter that the problem occurred because Indian Health Services had somehow believed that health clinic visits in towns on Seneca territory had actually taken place in towns with the same name in 14 other states.

With the federal agency refusing to address the tribe’s complaints, the Senecas filed their lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington last year.

In her opinion on the case, Collyer noted that the agency never replied to that letter from the Senecas and later rejected the tribe’s claims, arguing that the contracts under which the payments were made were settled and could not be changed.

But Indian Health Services never denied that the Senecas received less money than they deserved – which was the crux of the tribe’s court argument.

While Indian Health Services provides services directly on many Indian reservations, the Senecas began administering their own health care programs in 2000, setting up an accountable care system, Snyder said. The nation operates that system with federal funding provided by Indian Health Services.

email: jzremski@buffnews.com