Oct 23, 2019 Press Release
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), along with Representatives Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Steve Womack (R-AR), Ed Case (D-HI), and Gregorio Sablan (D-MP) introduced the Covering Our FAS Allies (COFA) Act. This bipartisan bill would reinstate Medicaid eligibility for citizens of the Freely Associated States (FAS) – the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau.
Under the Compacts of Free Association with the FAS member nations, The United States has exclusive military use rights in these island nations that enable critical access in the Asia-Pacific region. In exchange, COFA citizens may enter into the United States to live, work, and study without a visa. For years, FAS citizens residing in the United States were eligible for federal benefits, including Medicaid, as they were considered “permanently residing under the color of the law”. However, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) established comprehensive limitations and requirements on the eligibility of all noncitizens for means-tested federal assistance, including Medicaid.
“Reinstating Medicaid eligibility for FAS citizens residing in the United States is the strategically and morally right thing to do,” said Congressman Cárdenas. “The United States has long enjoyed a strategic agreement with island nations that allowed us to have a military presence there that is critical to our national security. We must honor our promise and follow through on our commitment to the people of these countries. We have ignored this problem for too long, and it is time we fixed it.”
“Our Compacts of Free Association with the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republics of Palau and the Marshall Islands are of critical importance to all of our countries, but the burdens of the Compacts fall disproportionately on a very few jurisdictions including Hawai’i,” said Congressman Ed Case (HI-01). “The unreimbursed costs of the Compacts to the people of Hawai’i are estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually and have materially worsened since Compact residents became ineligible for Medicaid, and Hawai’i assumed much of that burden. It is only fair that Medicaid eligibility be reinstated to ensure Compact residents can continue to access the care they need for themselves and for their families without jurisdictions like Hawai’i being asked to bear a disproportionate burden.”
“On behalf of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), we applaud Rep. Cardenas (D-CA) for his leadership in introducing the Covering our FAS Allies Act to restore Medicaid coverage for citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, who are living in the United States. This important bill will help to ensure that FSM citizens who are lawfully residing, working and paying taxes in the U.S. will be provided with much needed access to medical care and will help to improve existing healthcare disparities for our citizens,” said President David W. Panuelo of the Federated States of Micronesia.
Today, at least 61,000 FAS citizens reside in the United States. They are integral members of their communities; they pay federal taxes and serve in the United States military at a rate higher than that of American citizens. Many come to the United States because of health care needs – COFA citizens have disproportionately high rates of chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes, as well as high rates of some cancers. These conditions may be related to contamination from the 67 nuclear weapons tests conducted by the United States in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958. The COFA Act honors our commitment to the citizens of these Island nations and reinstates their Medicaid eligibility that they rightfully deserve.