Health Advocates to Governor: Stop Health Care Discrimination
Hawai'i Residents Rally, Ask Governor Abercrombie to End Pursuit of Discriminatory Healthcare Policy Under Basic Health Hawai'i
News Release from HealthyPacific.org September 16, 2012
Lawyers, doctors, social workers, and other supporters will join Compact of Free Association community groups at a rally in front of the Hawai'i State Capitol on Monday, to raise awareness of Governor Abercrombie's legal pursuit of a state healthcare plan deemed discriminatory and in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Basic Health Hawai'i, the limited healthcare plan for green card holders of less than five years and for all Compact of Free Association residents, was implemented by former Governor Lingle during her last term. A lawsuit by the Hawai'i Appleseed Center, Bronster Hoshibata, and Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing eventually resulted in an injunction against the plan, with the federal district court finding it prima facie unconstitutional.
During the period that Basic Health Hawai'i was in place, many chronically ill patients quickly ran out of their allotted inpatient visits and drug prescriptions. With little financial resources, many patients were unable to continue their treatment plans. Approximately 27 Compact of Free Association residents were confirmed to have died from a lack of treatment, with many others choosing to return to their home countries to live out their fate.
Governor Abercrombie is pursuing an appeal of the injunction on Basic Health Hawai'i, with a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing scheduled for Tuesday in San Francisco.
Compact of Free Association residents, along with legal permanent residents of less than five years, are excluded from federal benefits such as Medicare and Social Security, although they pay into these social safety nets through taxes. Until Basic Health Hawai'i, the state provided them with the same standard of healthcare as other legal residents. In justifying his appeal, Governor Abercrombie has cited the federal government as having the responsibility to cover these costs.
''Yes, we absolutely agree that the federal government has a responsibility to correct this oversight in funding for human services, particularly given the sacrifices our countries continue to make for the United States," said organizer Joakim Peter, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Hawai'i. ''But given the political climate in Washington, we know that
it could be a long time for the federal Congress to start acting like a responsible adult. We know that the solution is out there, but forcing our people onto a bare-bones healthcare plan is not a solution.''
The federal government grants Compact of Free Association residents the right to live, work, and seek an education in the United States, in exchange for exclusive U.S. military use of their oceans and some islands. Long-range missile testing continues on some islets, such as Kwajalein atoll, while nuclear waste and derelict warships languish on others. Military recruiters also target COFA citizens, with the Federated States of Micronesia reflecting the highest per-capita recruitment rate of any other recruiting jurisdiction. The history of some islands, such as Bikini and Enewetok, include the forced relocation of their entire indigenous populations for extensive nuclear weapons testing. Documents released from that period indicate that many residents were prematurely returned to these highly radioactive test sites, as part of a "human guinea pig" experiment on the effects of radiation.
Doctors and public health officials cite a disproportionate level of health concerns for many COFA citizens, due to both radiogenic illnesses and lifestyle-based diseases associated with a disruption of local agriculture and dietary habits.
"It's a matter of justice and human rights. The sudden reduction of healthcare benefits for the Micronesian communities is a form of government-sanctioned discrimination. We can ill afford to nickel and dime healthcare costs at the expense of losing lives," observed Trisha Nakamura, president of the Japanese American Citizens League Honolulu Chapter. The national JACL has adopted a resolution in support of equal healthcare for COFA residents in Hawai'i.
Issues of racial animosity have also been raised. "If you live in Hawai'i, if you read the online comments, if you listen to the radio, you know that Micronesians are being racially targeted. That is what we are afraid of, that people will literally just focus on one or two bad apples to justify their stereotypes, and forget that there are thousands of COFA residents--some here for decades--that pay taxes, go to work, attend church, and defend our country," said Dr. Wilfred Alik, of the Micronesian Health Advisory Coalition. "If a public official can so brazenly promote such discrimination [as BHH], imagine what is going on below the radar, in our social systems, in our neighborhoods. And this is not some Frank Delima joke, this has now become life or death."
After the rally, the coalition will present the governor with three separate petitions from doctors, attorneys, and community members, asking him to withdraw his appeal. These petitions are available for viewing online at www.healthypacific.org.
Japanese American Citizens League National Council adopts resolution supporting Medicaid access for COFA residents in Hawai'i
Ninth Circuit reschedules Basic Health Hawai'i oral arguments to September 18, 2012
CB: Micronesians, Supporters Petition Gov to Drop ‘Discriminatory Healthcare Policy’