Planned cuts could risk health of Micronesians
By Gary T. Kubota
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 26, 2010
A proposed cut in the state government’s medical assistance to Micronesians could mean some of them will die as a result, the state was told yesterday during a public hearing.
Health experts also raised questions about the long-term savings when preventive measures are denied to a group of Micronesians who choose to live in Hawaii but are unable to afford medical insurance and must be covered by the state’s Quest program.
“The state will not likely save money if it proceeds with this plan,” said Dr. Neal Palafox, chairman of family medicine and community health at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine.
Palafox, who said he was speaking as an individual, said taking away health care that prevents illnesses will increase the likelihood of health complications for Micronesians, who are prone to certain diseases, including diabetes.
Palafox said the state’s estimated population of Micronesians in Hawaii was 13,000, far below other reports of 17,000 to 20,000.
He said he had not seen state health officials present an analysis of the change’s impact.
More than 110 people attended the public hearing at the state’s Liliuokalani Building yesterday.
Under a Compact of Free Association signed by the federal government, residents of Palau, the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia are allowed to work and reside in the United States.
Micronesians say their islands do not have the high level of medical services available in Hawaii.
State health officials said Hawaii receives $11 million from the federal government for all services provided to Micronesians, while spending an average of $120 million annually. The proposal aims to save up to $8 million a year.
Faced with a tight budget, health officials have proposed keeping state medical assistance for Micronesians who are under the age of 19 or pregnant.
But the proposal cuts medical services for other Micronesians in Hawaii, except in the event of emergencies.
The proposal is to transfer 7,000 adult noncitizens from Quest into a new Basic Health Hawaii Program.
Manuel Sound, 70, a former lieutenant governor of the Federated States of Micronesia, said if he misses too many dialysis treatments, he will be dead.
Sound said Micronesians have been affected by U.S. nuclear tests done from 1946 to 1958 and have high rates of kidney and heart disease.
He said he felt the state was picking on Micronesians.
“This is really unfair,” he said. “This is discrimination.”
Masae Kintaro said the U.S. military recruits Micronesians to serve in wars, including her husband, who died fighting in Vietnam.
“He didn’t die for American citizens only. He died for our people,” she said.