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WA Governor Signs Pacific Islander Health Bill

Doug Nadvornick/SPR/TVW

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has signed into law a bill that could help thousands of low-income residents, including several hundred from Spokane, buy health care.

Bill signing ceremonies vary widely. Sometimes they’re quiet and no one shows. And then there are ceremonies that are more like parties. Such was the case Thursday morning. So many people came that a ceremony which would normally be held in the governor’s conference room was moved to a larger reception area.

It included a short speech by Michael Itti, the executive director of the Washington state Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs.

“We are here today to celebrate an historic achievement for these Pacific Islander communities in Washington, through their efforts to tell their stories, create awareness and make their voices heard to improve access to affordable health care," Itti said. "This milestone is a testament to their resilience and honors all who have endured and overcome many challenges.”

This bill applies to natives of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands. They’re here in part because of an agreement the U.S. has with those nations. They allowed the U.S. to test atomic weapons over their islands in the years after World War II. In exchange, their residents can move to the U.S. and live here. Tens of thousands have, in part because they can receive medical care they can’t receive at home. Spokane is home to several hundred Marshallese. Even though they’re allowed to live here, they’re not eligible for subsidized care through Medicaid.

The new law provides financial help to pay medical insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs for those who make less than 133% of the federal poverty level. 

Dozens of Pacific Islanders marked the occasion by singing the national anthem of the Marshall Islands. Several people thanked the governor by putting necklaces of shells and flowers around his neck. Then he sat down to sign the bill.

“The thought that their families will now have access to health care really fills my heart with satisfaction this morning. I want to thank everyone who has helped to right this decades of injustice. There’s no more beautiful day than when you can right an injustice and today, providing health care for Pacific Islanders is a great day for justice and I’m happy to sign Senate Bill 5683 to make this law of the state of Washington,” the governor said to applause.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors was Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane), who says he was thrilled to see the bill become law.


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