June 21, 2017

WASHINGTON – Today, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) commends Senator Mazie K. Hirono’s (HI) introduction of the Covering Our FAS Allies Act (COFA Act) in the Senate and Representative Colleen Hanabusa’s (HI-01) companion legislation in the House. If passed, the bill will restore access to federal health care programs, including Medicaid eligibility, for more than 56,000 Compacts of Free Association (COFA) individuals from the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands and Republic of Palau who work and reside in the United States.

“COFA communities have contributed to our nation’s security and welfare, and as a country, it is our responsibility to honor the treaty agreements by allowing COFA communities the same access to affordable health programs that their tax dollars support,” said Kathy Ko Chin, president and CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum. “We thank Senator Hirono and Representative Hanabusa for their leadership in introducing this important bill to ensure America fulfills its promise to COFA communities.”

Under US treaty, COFA individuals living in the US were eligible for federal health programs, including Medicaid. The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act rendered COFA individuals ineligible for these programs. As a result, states with sizable COFA communities have experienced first-hand challenges providing care for these populations. Individuals suffer from serious chronic conditions and health disparities, including effects from US nuclear test bombings. In absence of federal support, states with large COFA populations have shouldered the costs of providing care.

Under the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which passed the US House of Representatives in May, COFA communities would be excluded from tax credits and subsidies that are provided through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The COFA restoration bill underscores the critical importance of providing affordable, accessible care to COFA communities who pay into the same programs their tax dollars support, including Medicaid and ACA marketplace coverage.

COFA nations have strengthened our national security in the Pacific since World War II. Reinstating Medicaid eligibility would fulfill the federal government’s responsibilities under existing treaty and give states the resources to care for these populations.

The COFA Act is co-sponsored by Senator Brian Schatz (HI) in the US Senate and Representatives Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01), Raul Grivalja (AZ-03), Madeleine Bordallo (Guam), and Keith Ellison (MN-05) in the US House of Representatives.