May 12, 2015

WASHINGTON — Today, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) released the following statement in support of legislation introduced by Senator Mazie Hirono (HI) and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI) to restore Medicaid eligibility for Compacts of Free Association (COFA) migrants. More than 56,000 COFA migrants from the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Republic of Palau work and reside in the U.S., but are unjustly barred from federal health care programs.

“Congressional action is needed because, quite simply, the federal government has not kept its treaty agreements,” said Kathy Ko Chin, APIAHF president and CEO. “COFA nations have contributed greatly to our nation’s security, and in return, it is our responsibility to provide for their health and well-being. It is time that the federal government lives up to its promise and allows COFA migrants to access the same affordable health programs their tax dollars support.”

Prior to the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, COFA migrants were eligible for federal health programs, including Medicaid. That changed in 1996 when they were rendered not eligible for federal means-tested health programs, including Medicaid. As a result, states with sizable COFA migrant populations have experienced first-hand challenges providing care for these populations, many of whom have serious chronic conditions and health disparities, including effects from nuclear test bombing in some jurisdictions. Hawaii, California, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, Florida and Oklahoma have COFA migrant populations exceeding 1,000 and have borne the cost of providing care for these populations, in the absence of federal support.

The Pacific jurisdictions strengthen our national security by securing exclusive access to important Pacific waters since World War II. Reinstating Medicaid eligibility would fulfill the federal government’s responsibilities under the Compacts and give states the resources to care for these Pacific Islander populations.

Sen. Hirono’s and Rep. Gabbard’s companion bills build on long-standing support in Congress to correct the 1996 error and restore Medicaid coverage to COFA migrants.