APIAHF Applauds Introduction of House Bill Restoring Health Care for COFA Migrants

March 6, 2013

WASHINGTON—The Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) applauds Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (Hawaii) on her efforts to restore Medicaid coverage for Compact of Free Association (COFA) Migrants in the United States.

The legislation—known as H.R. 912 or the Restoring Medicaid for Compact of Free Association Migrants Act of 2013—if passed would amend Title IV of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, which restricts access to federal public benefit programs and effectively bars COFA migrants from access to Medicaid. Because of PRWORA, COFA migrants are also currently ineligible for the expanded Medicaid benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“This bill is sorely needed to fulfill our diplomatic and strategic military commitments and to restore safety net health care coverage for COFA migrants who contribute to the American economy, yet are unfairly denied access to quality health care programs,” said Kathy Ko Chin, president and CEO of APIAHF. “We strongly support the efforts of Rep. Hanabusa and her co-sponsors—Reps. Madeleine Z. Bordallo (Guam),  Eni Faleomavaega (American Samoa), Gregorio Sablan (Northern Mariana Islands) and Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii)—and call on Congress to pass this bill quickly. In light of the ongoing negotiations around immigration reform, COFA migrants must also be included in discussions to remedy this longstanding issue.”

Under the 1986 COFA, the U.S. government agreed to provide economic assistance to citizens from the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands and Republic of Palau, allowing them to enter, reside and work in the United States and participate in certain federal programs including Medicaid. After the enactment of PRWORA, COFA migrants were cut off from Medicaid, forcing states like Hawaii and the territory of Guam to absorb the costs of providing health care benefits to them in the absence of federal funding. COFA migrants suffer from a number of serious health disparities caused by America’s militarization of the Pacific Islands, nuclear test bombing and lack of economic supports, including high rates of cervical cancer and other chronic diseases. Having access to affordable, quality health care is critical to addressing these disparities.

If enacted, the bill would properly restore the federal government’s role in providing needed services for COFA migrants—including under the ACA—and give relief to the states and territories with large COFA migrant communities.

APIAHF is actively involved in the current immigration policy reform discussions and is working to ensure that any legislation supports hardworking immigrants and their families and includes access to affordable health care for all.