Parents, grandparents, advocates and health care professionals told state legislators Monday, January 15 about the immense cost of withholding health care coverage from some Washington residents—and the better future lawmakers can make possible. They spoke before the state House Appropriations Committee in favor of House Bill 1291, which extends access to health care to Washingtonians from the Pacific Island nations of the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia. Residents from these three nations can live and work in the United States under Compacts of Free Association between the U.S. Government and their nations, due to strategic U.S. military interests in the region. However, due to a federal rule, residents are denied access to Medicaid. Many Washingtonians from COFA nations also live with the long-term effects and health risks from the U.S. nuclear testing program in the Marshall Islands.
Here are samples of their testimony.
Jiji Jally, resident of Tumwater: “We lost our food, we lost our land. We didn’t choose our situation…. Like you, we pay taxes, we work; many of our kids serve in the U.S. military. We raise our kids like you, but we don’t have health. And we don’t have health care.”
Litonya Lester, Health Policy Director, Children’s Alliance: “Research shows that when parents have health coverage, the children in their lives are more likely to enroll in coverage, be healthier, and experience improved wellbeing.”
Thompson Keju, grandfather, medical interpreter: “I have a granddaughter, she’s 14. I have to work, I have to stay healthy. If I get sick, what will happen to her?”
Robin Narruhn, RN, member of the Pacific Islander Health Board: “This lack of accessibility to basic health care is costly, both from a financial and from a humanist perspective.”
Michael Itti, director of the Washington State Commission on Asian and Pacific American Affairs: “We support this legislation but also believe it’s important to restore the cost-sharing component in the original bill…. We have heard many stories about challenges people have in accessing prescription drugs and insulin, as well as having to access the emergency room for treatment. We believe restoring the reimbursement for out-of-pocket costs will be essential to the effectiveness of the program.”
Lawmakers also heard from Bernie Creaven, RN, with Health Care for the Homeless Network; David Anitok and Loyd Henion of the COFA Alliance National Network; and received written testimony from Vancouver Public Schools bilingual educator Juanita Yasu. Yasu has seen how lack of coverage hurts educational success and family economic security:
“Many of the parents make sacrifices to neglect their health in order to provide for their families. Often times, they would wait until they are in a critical condition to go to the emergency room. Going to the ER is not an option for many anymore, as they know that by going to the ER, they will incur more medical bills. These bills, which they can’t afford to pay, will affect their ability to be able to rent apartments or houses.”
Advocates for health care raised their powerful voices in the committee. Now it’s up to lawmakers to pass the bill and restore coverage for out-of-pocket costs to the program. House Bill 1291 is one of our four priorities in the 2018 state legislative session. To join us in supporting House Bill 1291, click here.