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Bill Moves Subsidized Health Care Closer For Spokane's Marshallese Residents

Doug Nadvornick/SPR/TVW

The Washington Senate today (Thursday) approved a bill that would help residents of Pacific Island descent, including several hundred in Spokane, gain easier access to state-subsidized health care.

The bill establishes the COFA Premium Assistance Program. COFA stands for the Compact of Free Association. It consists of the Marshall Islands, Palau and Micronesia. They are independent Pacific Island nations that have a special relationship with the United States. The U.S. detonated dozens of atomic weapons in the air above the Marshall Islands in the years after World War II. Residents there have suffered radiation-related illnesses, such as cancer, as well as other chronic conditions.

There are about 6,500 COFA residents in Washington, including up to 800 from the Marshall Islands in Spokane. Many are poor, but because of federal law, they’re not eligible for free care through Medicaid. Sen. Rebecca Saldana (D-Seattle) says her bill would allow them to apply for state subsidies to help them buy insurance through Washington’s Health Exchange.

“What we’re doing is making right of a past wrong and making sure that they have access to health care for their families, for their children, particularly for their elders who end up in really dire straits,” Saldana said.

Her bill sailed through the Senate, 46-to-two, though a few question whether this is a state responsibility.

“Here we are again, the state of Washington, expecting to clean up the mess made by our feds, not just those currently there, Mr. President, but those who have been there for quite awhile, who have refused to act and take care of the problems that we caused by testing nuclear devices,” said Sen. Ann Rivers (R-Vancouver).

A similar bill sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) is working its way through the House, which is where this version now goes.


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