State of Hawai‘i Sued to Restore Critical Medical Services
Suit Follows Federal Court Order Halting States Previous Plan to Cut Benefits
Honolulu, Aug. 23, 2010 Today a class of low-income Hawaii residents filed a federal lawsuit against the Hawaii Department of Human Services in an attempt to force the state to reinstate necessary medical services. The suit claims DHS has illegally discriminated against the residents by drastically cutting their medical benefits based on the plaintiffs status as legal residents from other countries.
The suit comes approximately one year after a federal judge temporarily struck down DHSs previous effort to deny medical benefits to a similar class of Hawaii residents. The new suit targets DHSs new strategy — to severely cut but not eliminate benefits to certain residents based on national origin.
During the past 8 years, we have seen many examples of federal intervention due to the Lingle Administrations disregard of the rights of the weak, the poor and disabled, said Paul Alston of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing. This is another shameful example of this administration’s callousness and lack of regard for the law.
Plaintiffs include legal immigrants who have been U.S. residents for less than five years and non-immigrant legal residents living in Hawaii under so-called COFA treaties, which grant free entry into the United States to citizens of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Representing the plaintiffs are attorneys from the non-profit organization Lawyers for Equal Justice, and the firms of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing and Bronster Hoshibata.
I am disappointed that Hawaii would adopt laws that so blatantly discriminate against Micronesians and immigrants. said Catherine Leilani Aubuchon, an attorney with Bronster Hoshibata, who is from the Federated States of Micronesia.
“Our state owes much of what we are today to the contributions that legal immigrants like members of the COFA nations have made to our economy, our culture, and our values, said Victor Geminiani, Executive Director of Lawyers for Equal Justice. It is a tragedy that the Governor has now chosen to severely ration life-sustaining health care by targeting the most vulnerable population among us.
The focus of the suit is DHSs Basic Health Hawaii program, or BHH, a Hawaii health insurance program established to cover legal aliens living in the United States for less than five years, as well as Hawaii residents from Pacific nations that have entered a series of treaties with the United States. Known as Compacts of Free Association, or COFA, the treaties establish special relationships between the U.S. and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Republic of Palau. For example, under COFA, the United States is allowed conduct military operations in the COFA nations, while citizens of those nations are allowed to enter into, lawfully engage in occupations, and establish residence as non-immigrant[s] in the United States and its territories and possessions.
The State of Hawaii may not discriminate on the basis of national origin, said Margery S. Bronster, name partner of Bronster Hoshibata and a former Attorney General for the State of Hawaii. Once the U.S. government allowed COFA residents free access to the U.S., no state could limit those rights.
The suit also asserts that DHSs program is constitutionally impermissible because it is inconsistent with federal policy and encroaches on exclusive federal power. Finally, the suit claims that DHSs policy violates the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits a government entity from forcing persons to go into an isolated institutional setting in order to obtain essential medical services.