Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Federal judge issues preliminary injunction restoring medical services to Micronesians and other COFA beneficiaries in Hawaii
by Larry Geller
Federal Judge J. Michael Seabright issued a preliminary injunction yesterday restoring medical services to Micronesian and other Compact of Free Association (COFA) residents of Hawaii who were previously eligible to receive them. Unfortunately, the ruling is not in time for those who have died as a result of the state’s discrimination (as many as 27 people have been reported to have died after receiving a letter from Hawaii’s Department of Human Services that their dialysis would be cut off).
After the cutoff was successfully challenged in court, DHS created a separate health plan, Basic Health Hawaii (BHH) with very limited services and benefits, essentially cutting off COFA beneficiaries again from lifesaving medical treatment. In his order granting the injunction, Judge Seabright had no difficulty determining that those whose services have been cut off would suffer irreparable harm.
Plaintiffs have shown a strong likelihood of irreparable harm if a preliminary injunction is not granted. Plaintiffs have submitted compelling evidence that BHH’s limited coverage for doctors’ visits, prescriptions, and other critical services is causing COFA Residents to forego much needed treatment because they cannot otherwise afford it. This lack of treatment clearly supports a finding of irreparable harm.
In the course of the case, plaintiff attorneys in fact demonstrated that irreparable harm has already occurred. Although the state must resume providing benefits to COFA residents starting tomorrow (12/15/2010), some will wait until February 1 (see details in the court order, below).
These COFA Residents presently enrolled in BHH will be entitled to benefits effective December 15, 2010 and Defendants shall reimburse providers for any benefits provided on or after that date, regardless of when Defendants complete processing the re-enrollment documentation. COFA Residents having QExA benefits reinstated will receive these benefits through the same health plan through which they previously received them.
Hawaii’s DHS has a history of discrimination that has resulted in avoidable deaths. In a case that ended with a multi-million dollar award against the state it was ruled that Hawaii's earlier exclusion of blind and disabled individuals from its QUEST program violated Title II and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a civil rights statute. Unfortunately, the award was too late for those who died because they could not get medical service.