I'm sure many of you are aware after WWII, the United States conducted dozens of atomic bomb tests in the Marshall Islands. To be exact, there were 67 different atomic bomb tests. Like many Navy veterans who participated in these events, the Pacific Islanders are suffering from bad health as a result of these tests. Their health is not only suffering because of the tests, but because after the tests they were not allowed to eat their native foods. They were supplied with canned foods which also contributed to poor health.
In the late 1980's, the Compacts of Free Association (COFA) was formed, which opened the gateway for Islanders to live in the United States. Unfortunately, the Islanders are treated as non-citizens and have not been entitled to certain benefits even though they are required to pay state and federal taxes.
To give an example, in 2013, the Legislature passed HB 2517 which allows COFA Islanders to receive regular Oregon driver's licenses rather than the temporary permits that were issued. This has opened the door for COFA Islanders to live more freely in Oregon to make it easier to get apartments, bank loans, and even jobs.
This session, HB 2522 was introduced, which intends to extend Medicaid coverage to COFA Islanders. The Islanders need access to health care coverage as they suffer high rates of endocrine diseases and cancers due to testing from the 1950's. The bill would ensure about 1,000-1,500 COFA Islanders receive the proper health care they are in dire need of.
Loyd Henion, a constituent from Albany, became involved when he learned about the health care issue from his mother's caregiver who is a Marshall Islander. I very much appreciate Loyd bringing this bill forward, educating the legislature, and advocating for this group.
Earlier this week, Senior Master Trainer of the US Army, Kalani Kaneko who actually lives in my district, informed me why this bill was so important to him. He says, "HB 2522 is all about equality...if COFA citizens are qualified to fight for our freedom, why can't they qualify for medical benefits?" I appreciate Kalani's perspective, especially after his 20 years of service in the US Army.
This week, HB 2522 passed out of the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Services, but as an amended version. Since the majority of the policy will be federally funded, we need to wait until next session to ensure we receive the federal match.
This is a great first step in the right direction and I'm looking forward to working on this further in the February Short Session.