Micronesians in Hawai‘i – A Closer Look (Part 3)

Nov 13, 2015

Bikini Atoll as it appears today.
Credit Wikipedia Commons

This week we've been looking at part of the legacy of a dozen years of U.S. nuclear testing in the South Pacific.  For survivors of those tests and their descendants, part of the story is medical treatment—and how to pay for it.  In her concluding report, Jackie Young looks at some possible solutions.

Common medical issues suffered by Micronesians related to U.S. nuclear testing on their islands include assorted cancers, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, and hypertension.  Another, less-discussed health problem:  Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder.  Dr. Neal Palafox of the U.H. Medical School explains.  “As you can imagine, the testing—people were displaced from their homes, they got direct radiation, they didn’t know what nuclear radiation was about—so there was a lot of trauma to them personally, emotionally.  You know, that knowledge of what’s going to happen to me next, what’s going to happen to my kids.  And so in medical terms we call that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. …Nobody recognizes the kind of trauma and stress that they have gone through, and continue to go through…”

Dr. David Derauf is the director of Kokua Kalihi Valley clinic. “It also makes sense for the State of Hawaiʻi to want to do the right thing and to keep this group of people well.  They’re here, they’re residents, most of them want to be gainfully employed, they pay taxes, they serve in the military in the highest percentage, per capita, of any group in the United States…”  Derauf also says, since the nuclear testing which impacted the Micronesians was a military responsibility, the military could easily open clinics for them.

The state recently transferred about 8,000 Micronesians from Medicaid to health plans under the Affordable Care Act.  U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono believes Medicaid coverage should be restored for these individuals—also known as Freely Associated States citizens.  “The Congress should pass my bill to enable the FAS citizens to qualify or to be eligible for Medicaid coverage.  And I got that done through the Comprehensive Immigration Bill as an amendment to that bill in 2013, unfortunately the House did not take up comprehensive immigration reform.  And therefore I have a free-standing bill to enable the FAS citizens to qualify for Medicaid and that is what the federal government should do.”

Dr. Palafox feels our obligation to the Micronesians is also moral.  “…If the federal government takes away the Medicaid and doesn’t take care of these folks, then are we a part of the federal government in some way, and who’s going to be doing that?  And one of the principles that I think is just generally in healthcare, ‘A rising tide floats all boats.’  So if you don’t take care of the people that have the greatest need, you will pull down the entire healthcare system of the state or of the nation.  So it’s in Hawaiʻi’s interest to provide dollars to float all boats.”

Sen. Hirono’s bill to restore Medicaid to the Micronesians is supported by Hawai‘i’s entire congressional delegation.  The bill is currently in the Senate Finance Committee.  No hearing has yet been scheduled.