February 2, 2016

Oregon Momentum for COFA Healthcare

Today the Oregon Legislature convened for their annual five week “short session” and we are pleased to announce that one of APANO’s top Our Families Our Health legislative priorities - HB 4071 Restoring COFA Healthcare - had a successful public hearing and was voted out of the House Healthcare Committee with a unanimous 9-0 vote. The bill heads to the Joint Ways and Means subcommittee on Health and Human Services. Community members are invited to a Legislative Day of Action Monday February 15th at the Oregon Capitol in Salem [FREE - register here].

A bipartisan group of Oregon legislators and community organizations have worked for the last year to introduce legislation that provides healthcare to as many as 1,500 low-income Pacific Islanders who face a unique and devastating lifetime ban to many federal benefits including Medicaid. Oregon House Bill 4071 is a first in the nation effort by a state to cover Pacific Islanders who are citizens of COFA Nations comprised of the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. COFA citizens were stripped of Medicaid in 1996 as part of federal welfare reform. COFA, the Compact of Free Association, is a federal agreement that provides for the continued US occupation of Pacific Islands primarily for military purposes and the ability for COFA citizens to live and work in the United States. Thousands of COFA citizens face lifetime impacts from US nuclear testing, climate change and US intervention in COFA economies and migrate to the US for healthcare, education and jobs to support their families.

Led by the COFA Alliance National Network (CANN), groups including APANO and the Oregon Health Equity Alliance have been working for several years to develop a viable program to leverage federal tax credits through the Oregon Marketplace for health insurance, and cover the remaining premiums with state funds. For the first year starting July 2017, an estimated $1.8 million is needed for premium assistance and startup administration. If HB 4071 passes in the 2016 legislative, ongoing funding would be determined by future legisatures through the biennial budget process starting in Spring of 2017.

HB 4071 faces it’s toughest test in winning approval from legislators for funding, and will need to move out of the Ways and Means in the next two weeks in order to clear the full House and Senate before the session ends March 5. Republican Rep. Andy Olson of Albany and Democratic Rep. Dan Rayfield of Corvallis are the Chief Sponsors, joined by 40 other sponsors.

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