WASHINGTON – Today, Representatives Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Steve Womack (R-AR), Ed Case (D-HI) and Gregorio Sablan (D-MP) introduced the Covering Our FAS Allies Act (COFA Act), a bill to reinstate Medicaid eligibility for the more than 61,000 citizens of the Freely Associated States living in the United States and its territories under the Compacts of Free Association (COFA).

“COFA communities have contributed to our nation’s security, pay taxes and play a role in driving our economy, but they are not eligible for many of the programs that their tax dollars support,” said Kathy Ko Chin, president and CEO of APIAHF. “We thank Representatives Cárdenas, Radewagen, Gabbard, Womack, Case and Sablan for correcting a nearly 25-year error, by working to restore Medicaid eligibility to COFA individuals. We hope that the bill will continue to receive bipartisan support and will be passed in the House and Senate.”

The Compacts of Free Association, since 1986, have defined the relationship between the United States and the independent governments of the Freely Associated States (FAS) including the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau. In return for the exclusive use and military strategic positioning in those countries, the United States entered into a treaty agreement to provide care for individuals from the Freely Associated States (commonly called COFA communities), along with the right for them to freely enter, live and work in the United States.

In 1996, Congress inadvertently excluded COFA individuals from the list of legally present non-citizens eligible to qualify for certain federal benefits. Since then, COFA individuals have been excluded from qualifying for Medicaid. The denial of Medicaid has led to poor health consequences for COFA communities, many of whom suffer from serious chronic conditions and health disparities, including effects from exposure to nuclear weapons testing conducted by the United States in FAS nations. In the absence of federal support, states with large and emerging COFA populations have shouldered the costs of providing care.

This legislation is the companion namesake to Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Brian Schatz’s (D-Hawaii) bill, S. 2218, which was introduced in July.

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