Wednesday, October 05, 2011


Info briefing Thursday on medical services for COFA residents of Hawaii—call for action

by Larry Geller

Update: I got some important things wrong in this article, as posted last night. Michael Sullivan corrected me in the comment below, and I do regret not being more careful.  I actually knew the facts, but wrote too sloppily. No excuse. So I have corrected the article and am re-posting, rather than leave the wrong info for others to read. Many people don’t read the comments. I appreciate being corrected and regret that it was necessary.

Tomorrow (Thursday, October 6, 2011) is an informational briefing called by Rep. John Mizuno on he subject of medical services to Micronesians and other members of the Compact of Free Association (COFA) who are residents of Hawaii. Here’s a link to the meeting notice. The meeting is scheduled to start at 10:30 in Room 329 of the State Capitol, and will be televised on `Olelo on channel 49, or can be streamed from the `Olelo website.

From the hearing notice:

The purpose of  this informational briefing is to review human services issues relating to the Micronesian community in Hawaii, the history of the Federal Compact, and the state costs of providing human services to the Micronesian community and the federal reimbursement to the state.

At the conclusion of the briefing, the Chair of the House Human Services Committee will highlight the agreed upon solutions proposed to better address adequate reimbursement of human services' costs of COMPACT citizens in Hawaii.

This is all well and good, but there is one problem it doesn’t solve—the state is still trying to cut off services to these people entirely. It is appealing a lawsuit that blocked the state from setting up a system of inferior medical care for COFA residents.

There is a simple way to continue medical services, and you can help: Tell Governor Abercrombie to drop the administration’s appeal which would cut off life-saving medical care to COFA migrants.

Yes, Abercrombie has chosen to appeal a federal district court ruling preventing the state from cutting off dialysis, chemotherapy and other critical services to people who are legitimate residents of Hawaii. Final briefs have already  been filed—see Final brief filed by state in attempt to cut off medical services for Micronesians, other Pacific migrants (8/17/2011).

Sure, we want the federal government to chip in with funds to cover Hawaii’s expenses, but needing dialysis while being Micronesian is not a capital offense. Nobody should be executed (which is what cutting off dialysis amounts to) because of a squabble between the state and federal governments.

The Governor’s phone number is 586-0034.

You can also call or email the chair and members of the committee who will meet tomorrow (see the hearing notice linked above). Typically, only Rep. Mizuno and maybe a couple of others will take testimony. If the other members of the committee took enough interest in the issue and together approached the Governor, perhaps the problem could be solved more expeditiously. As it is, we know that Rep. Mizuno is very often the voice of moral responsibility in the House, but he is but one voice, easy for the administration to ignore.

You can help. Do what you can to get Abercrombie to drop the ugly court action.

Let the chemotherapy flow while the state figures out how to get the feds to step up to their responsibilities.

Read related stories here.

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Great reporting. It is hard to believe that Abercrombie would continue Lingle's policy on this. Please keep us posted.

Thank you for the attention that you have given to the important issues of medical services for COFA migrants.

I work closely with one of the Micronesian organizations that sued the state and have followed the lawsuit fairly closely. I do want to offer a few corrections to your article.

*There was no lawsuit by the Lingle administration "to cut off life-saving medical care to COFA migrants." The Lingle administration simply declared COFA migrants ineligible for MedQUEST and established a separate medical program , Basic Health Hawaii, which had very limited benefits, to serve them.

*The federal court ruling that restored MedQUEST benefits for COFA migrants came after Abercrombie had become governor. It was the Abercrombie administration itself that made the decision to appeal that ruling in federal circuit court.

*If the Abercrombie administration wins the appeal, it is unclear what will happen. Governor Abercrombie recently met with representatives of several Micronesian organizations and promised them that he would continue to serve COFAs through MedQUEST, even if the state won the appeal.

Michael Sullivan

Thanks so much for the correction. I have fixed the article since many people don't read comments. And I'm kicking myself for the obvious mistake. It was a hard day, and I should have given the keyboard a bit of a rest.

On giving up the appeal and the Governor's promise, I don't accept that as a solution because future budget crunches might convince this governor or the next to cut back on services again. It seems to me that the right thing to do is to drop that appeal. Of course, legal matters are more complicated than might be obvious to a layman, but still, I can't accept a promise in this.

Remember that perhaps 27 people are reported to already have died when Lingle's DHS notified them that their services would be cut off. Probably we don't know the full impact of that decision. It should not be an option to do that again.

Oh, yes, I definitely agree with you that the Governor's promise was not enough! He could change his mind, or the Legislature could simply refuse to appropriate the necessary funding!

Thank you Larry and Michael for bringing us the facts about Gov Abercrombie's actions. I will definitely call/write the Governor's office. I plan to also let others know. Thanks again!

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