Court Denies Hawaii’s Request for Dismissal of Suit against Basic Health Hawaii

As Yokwe Online reports, U.S. District Court Judge Seabright denied the State of Hawai’i motion to dismiss a class-action lawsuit brought by Hawai’i residents from the Compact of Free Association (COFA) countries of Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Republic of Palau.   The State of Hawai’i cut off health insurance for these residents and instituted a lesser insurance program called Basic Health Hawai’i.  This new plan does not cover many of the critical services needed by Micronesian islanders in Hawai’i, many of whom are refugees of U.S. nuclear testing in their home islands or of the intentional economic and social underdevelopment of their islands during the U.S. strategic trust rule over Micronesia.  The COFA residents’ lawsuit seeks to restore equal health benefits as provided to other Hawai’i residents.

While the United Nations mandated decolonization for all colonies under UN trusteeship in the aftermath of World War II, Micronesia was a special case under the “strategic trust” of the U.S. Essentially, Micronesia was treated as spoils of war.  U.S. military and civilian planners debated how to administer the islands and fulfill the mandate to assist the islands in their process of self-determination.  The U.S. wanted to maintain a permanent military presence in Micronesia and Okinawa to maintain hegemony over the Northern Pacific Ocean – the American Lake.

Seabright’s rejection of the State of Hawai’i’s motion to dismiss the COFA lawsuit is a good sign that at least the COFA residents of Hawai’i will get their day in court.  Unfortunately the hearing will be too late for the 27 people who have died since September 1, 2009 as a result of being denied critical care.



Court Denies Hawaii’s Request for Dismissal of Suit against Basic Health Hawaii

U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright ruled yesterday to deny the State of Hawaii’s motion to dismiss a class-action suit on behalf of migrants from the Compact of Free Association (COFA) countries of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Republic of Palau.

Earlier this year, the COFA citizens residing in Hawaii filed the class action suit against the State’s Department of Human Services (DHS) officials, challenging the new Basic Health Hawaii (BHH) program which reduces the benefits and services previously provided to critically-ill dialysis and cancer patients.

The suit was filed on behalf of the over 7,000 Marshallese, Micronesians,and Palauns who are eligible for the State’s health program.

The Plaintiffs claim, in Korab et al v. Koller et al, filed August 23, 2010, in Hawaii District Court, that the BHH violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it provides less health benefits than the State of Hawaii’s (the “State”) Medicaid program offered to citizens and certain qualified.

It also claims a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) because BHH is not administered in the most integrated setting appropriate to meet the medical needs of this specific population.

At a hearing on November 2 in regard to Hawaii’s request for dismissal, Judge Seabright said he was struggling over the case. Micronesian community representatives reported that elimination of medical benefits has impacted many, including 27 who have died since Sept. 1, 2009.

The new ruling rejects the State’s characterization of their actions “as simply creating a brand new benefits program where one did not exist.”

The Court stated in the November 10 decision:

    For the last fourteen years Defendants have provided COFA Residents the same benefits as those provided to citizens and other qualified aliens, creating a unified program treating citizens, qualified aliens, and non-qualified aliens the same, regardless of federal funding. Accordingly, the issue is not whether a state must create a benefits program for certain groups of individuals where no program exists, but rather where a program involving state funding already exists, whether a state may then exclude certain groups from that program based on alienage.

The Court also said that the Plaintiff’s assertion, regarding BHH’s limitation of benefits requiring them to seek care in a hospital setting, “may be sufficient to state a claim for violation of the ADA.”

– by Aenet Rowa, Yokwe Online, November 11, 2010

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