Hirono bill looks to make migrants eligible for medicaid

Published: May. 14, 2013 at 4:26 PM HST|Updated: May. 14, 2013 at 6:00 PM HST
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The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday approved two measures introduced by Senator Mazie K. Hirono that she says will save Hawaii taxpayers millions of dollars.

The two measures would save the state millions by restoring Medicaid eligibility for workers from Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands and would fix rules that disproportionately impact Hawaii's fishing industry.

"Both of these amendments address longstanding issues that impact Hawaii, and getting these measures included in immigration reform legislation is a big victory for our state," said Hirono. "My amendment restoring Medicaid eligibility for compact migrants would save Hawaii taxpayers millions each year, and another measure the committee adopted today would fix rules that negatively impact Hawaii fishermen."

Below read summaries of the two Hirono amendments adopted today by the Senate Judiciary Committee and are now included in the Senate's immigration reform legislation:

Restoring Medicaid Eligibility For Compact Migrants: In 1996, Congress passed a law that made migrants from Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall islands who now live in Hawaii ineligible for federally backed Medicaid funding. But Hawaii has continued to provide health care services to these families even without federal support. Each year, the state spends an estimated $30-40 million to provide health care to these families. By making these individuals eligible for Medicaid, Hirono's amendment requires the federal government to once again share the cost of providing health care to these individuals. Restoring Medicaid eligibility for these compact migrants has been a priority of Hawaii leaders for more than a decade. Senator Akaka last introduced a bill in 2011 that would have restored migrants' Medicaid eligibility.

Allowing Hawaii Fishing Vessels To Temporarily Rotate Foreign Crews: Hawaii and Hawaii residents depend on fresh, locally caught fish. Because of Hawaii's geographic isolation, Hawaii's longline fishing fleet faces a unique competitive disadvantage. Federal law requires U.S. fleets to rotate their nonimmigrant foreign crews at foreign ports. While mainland fleets can comply with this requirement by rotating foreign crews at ports in Canada or Mexico, Hawaii-based vessels must make a round-trip voyage of more than two weeks to reach the nearest foreign port. Senator Hirono's amendment would allow U.S. vessels to temporarily rotate their nonimmigrant foreign crew in Hawaii, the same flexibility currently available to U.S. ships rotating crew in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Senator Brian Schatz praised his Hirono for passing the medicaid amendment.

"Congratulations to Senator Hirono for making real progress on ensuring that Compact migrants have access to Medicaid," said Senator Brian Schatz. "This has been a long-standing challenge for the Hawaii delegation and for the state of Hawaii's finances.  It is the federal government's responsibility to provide these services and it is unfortunate that Hawaii is bearing the cost, but this amendment would help remedy the situation. I look forward to working with Mazie and my colleagues in the Senate on moving this bill forward." 

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