U.S. Senators Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, Democrats of Hawaii, on Thursday reintroduced the Covering our FAS Allies Act.

According to a press release, it would “reinstate Medicaid coverage, also known as Med-QUEST in Hawaii, for citizens of the Freely Associated States” — or FAS — living in the United States under the Compacts of Free Association.

Hirono said, “Health care is a human right, and for far too long, COFA citizens have not had equal access to essential care and services through Medicaid. The Compacts are critical to our national security interests in the Pacific and we must uphold our end of the bargain. Thousands of COFA individuals and families live in the United States and we have an obligation to reinstate Medicaid coverage for these allies living in Hawaii and across our country.”

Micronesian Craft art at the Celebrate Micronesia. Honolulu Museum of Art School. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Micronesian craft art at the Celebrate Micronesia festival in Honolulu in 2015. Hawaii is home to nearly 17,000 COFA citizens, many of them with critical health care needs. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Said Schatz, “This bill is about the federal government taking more responsibility and ensuring access to health care for all COFA citizens. Too often, Hawaii shoulders the cost of care for these residents. But at the end of the day, the U.S. government – through Medicaid – should provide coverage to all COFA citizens.”

COFA allows for citizens of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia to freely travel to the United States. As many as 16,800 are estimated to live in Hawaii, and many more on the mainland.

As the press release explains, in 1996 the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act “excluded COFA citizens from the list of legally present non-citizens eligible to qualify for certain federal benefits. Since then, COFA citizens have been excluded from qualifying for Medicaid, denying them access to much-needed care and leaving states like Hawaii with large populations of COFA citizens to shoulder the costs of uncompensated care.”

Read Civil Beat’s article “Micronesians In Hawaii Still Struggle To Get Health Care.”

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