Monday, August 31, 2009

KHON: Micronesians Told Dialysis Will Continue

Reported by: Andrew Pereira
Last Update: 8/31 8:14 pm

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About thirty members of Hawaii's Micronesian community gathered at the state Capitol Monday to meet with Gov. Lingle after they were told last month their QUEST medical coverage would be dropped in order to save the state $15 million a year.

Instead of a face-to-face with the governor, those who gathered inside her chambers were told the state had found federal funding to cover those in need of dialysis.

"It isn't a hundred percent clear, but it is certainly we feel, a good argument to make and we will submit the claims for that reimbursement,” said Human Services Director Lillian Koller.

Koller believes Hawaii can legally bill the federal government for dialysis treatments after Arizona won a consent decree in 2007 stating dialysis is an emergency service.

The lack of free dialysis treatment was a major concern to Micronesians as the state drops QUEST coverage and switches them to a new plan September 1 called Basic Health Hawaii.

Some members of the migrant community expressed concern that dialysis treatments under the new program would only be covered for the next two years.

“We don't know what we'll happen (after that),” said Elma Coleman of Micronesians United. “I guess we'll have to come back again to the governor and to (Lillian) Koller.”

Koller said Micronesians currently receiving chemotherapy in hospitals and as outpatients would continue to receive treatments. However chemotherapy would not be covered for those who develop cancer later on.

“These matters have other supports to go to that are there,” said Koller. “There's our hospital system (and) there's also the American Cancer Society.”

William Swain, an attorney who represents about 300 Marshallese clients, told Khon2 he believed Micronesians were being unfairly targeted by cuts in health benefits.

"People from the COFA nations or COFA migrants are still feeling that they are being picked on,” said Swain. “They are the only group that has been cut off.”

COFA, or the Compacts of Free Association allows Micronesians to reside, work and receive benefits within the U.S. The 1986 law is part of the compensation for the lingering effects of nuclear weapons testing during the 1940's and 50's.

Koller said under Basic Health Hawaii, 7,000 non-pregnant adults from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau would receive the same medical benefits they got under QUEST.

The new program includes 12 annual outpatient doctor visits, ten hospital days, six mental health visits, three procedures as well as emergency medical and dental care, plus more pharmacy coverage, which is identical to QUEST-ACE and QUEST-Net for low-income Hawaii residents.

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