More than 200 Pacific Islanders living in Hawaii are heading for a medical emergency.
It’s a health crisis, with roots stretching back to U.S. government experiments in the 1950’s.
During the Cold War, America set off more than 60 nuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands. Radiation poisoned hundreds.
Decades later, the U.S. government passed a compact that allows people there to move to the U.S. and receive state benefits without being identified as immigrants.
Many come to Hawaii for treatment.
Out of $100 million a year the state spends on helping them, the federal government only provides about 11 percent.
Now, Hawaii’s budget crunch means services are about to be cut even more.
Three times a week, Lourdes Choran lies in a bed at Liberty Dialysis – Hawaii while a machine pulls poison from her blood.
“It is a death sentence to not have dialysis if your kidneys have failed,” clinic director Jane Gibbons said.
House Rep. John Mizuno has pages of signatures from Marshallese and Micronesians who object to the state’s new health insurance for non-citizens.
Basic Health Hawaii will no longer pay for dialysis and chemotherapy.
“There is a solution. I believe if the governor can delay this program from being implemented for six months,” Mizuno said.
The program starts September 1. Attorney Victor Geminiani said the patients were caught off guard.
“Those individuals, very few of them have been notified by the government and told exactly what’s going to happen,” he said.
Thompson Phillip is from Chuuk. He’s been receiving dialysis for five years three times a week.
“For one it’s expensive. It’s more than a thousand dollars. I cannot afford that,” his wife Yitha Phillip said.
But the state said it can’t afford to subsidize care to COMPAC nations. Basic Health Hawaii would save $15 million a year. The Department of Human Services has to cut $47 million from its budget over the next two years.
Mizuno said other money can cover it.
“We have quite possibly well over $500 million in federal monies, stimulus monies, that we haven’t locked in on,” he said.
If the state sticks to its timetable, Liberty Dialysis will continue to provide dialysis to fifty patients losing their coverage. The clinic will do it free of charge, but that can’t go on forever.