December 21, 2020

Following Hirono, Schatz Advocacy, Congress Poised to Restore Medicaid Eligibility for Citizens of the Freely Associated States Living in the United States

Covering Our FAS Allies Act, Introduced by Senators Hirono and Schatz, Included in Bipartisan Omnibus Appropriations Legislation Unveiled Today

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) announced that Congress is poised to restore Medicaid eligibility for citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau – collectively known as the Freely Associated States – living in the United States under the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) as part of the bipartisan omnibus appropriations bill unveiled today. 

If enacted, the legislation would expand health care access for thousands of COFA citizens living and working in Hawaii at a time when the community has experienced a disproportionate number of cases and deaths from COVID-19. It would help states like Hawaii and territories like Guam that have provided tens of millions of dollars in care and services to the COFA community that would otherwise be reimbursable under Medicaid.

“Restoring Medicaid access for COFA citizens has been one of my top priorities since arriving in the Senate in 2013, and this work has become only more urgent as the COFA community in Hawaii and across the country have experienced overwhelming levels of disease and death from COVID-19,” Senator Hirono said. “This bipartisan agreement will unlock new tools to assist the COFA community suffering from unequal access to health care. By allowing States to enroll COFA citizens in Medicaid, we are upholding the promises we made to our critical national security partners in the Freely Associated States, and supporting jurisdictions like Hawaii that have traditionally stepped in to provide health care for the COFA community.”

“For too long, Hawaii has shouldered the costs while COFA residents have struggled to get essential health care, so restoring this funding will help both our state and all COFA citizens,” Senator Schatz said. “This will help our state’s fiscal condition when we need it the most.”

Senator Hirono has been a consistent champion for restoring Medicaid access for COFA citizens during her time in the Senate, and has worked with the Hawaii Congressional Delegation to introduce legislation to do so in the 114th115th, and 116th Congresses. In 2013, she successfully included COFA Medicaid language in the Senate’s bipartisan Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill that passed the Senate in an overwhelming vote, but was ignored by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. In July, Senator Hirono took to the Senate floor to urge Congress to restore Medicaid eligibility for COFA citizens as a way to assist a community suffering disproportionately during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Schatz has fought to protect federal funding to Hawaii for COFA citizens, securing millions every year in Congress’ annual appropriations bill. Last year, when an error at the Department of the Interior revealed an undercount of COFA residents resulted in an underpayment in federal funding for Hawaii,Schatz led calls to restore the funding which helps support services for COFA citizens, including health care, education, and transportation.