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Better health care coverage for Marshallese pass Legislature

OLYMPIA – More Pacific Islanders, including those from the Marshall Islands, would have access to healthcare under a bill that received final approval Monday in the Senate.

Citizens of the Compact of Free Association, which includes Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau have experienced a litany of health problems because of nuclear testing the United States did on the Marshall Islands during 1940s and ‘50s.

The bill now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has 20 days to decide whether to sign it.

Roughly 3,000 Marshallese live in the Spokane area, said Adam Hyla, Communications Director at the Children’s Alliance. The bill would expand healthcare coverage for people who belong to any of the countries in the compact.

The state needs to take care of its citizens who were wronged by the government, Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, said last week when the final changes to the bill were approved in the House.

“We did human testing on these individuals,” Riccelli said. “While this is a federal government responsibility, they’re coming up short and we need to do the right thing to provide healthcare for these folks.”

Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, said he sympathized with the people affected by the nuclear testing, but the federal government should be responsible for making amends.

“I do believe this is a federal issue, and I have a hard time asking the citizens of our state to cover the costs,” he said.

But Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, said the state needs to provide better healthcare for all of its residents.

“I’m asking you to join me in voting to do the right thing,” she said. “We will take responsibility for our friends and neighbors.”


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