Limited health care plan blocked


POSTED: Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A federal judge ruled yesterday that Hawaii's government must continue providing lifesaving dialysis and chemotherapy treatments to Pacific island migrants suffering from kidney disease and cancer.

U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright granted a temporary restraining order preventing the state from instituting a new, limited health insurance program intended to save $15 million. The new health program was planned to start yesterday.

His decision came as a relief to migrants from Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands who argue the United States and the state were not living up to a health obligation promised after U.S. nuclear weapons tests in Pacific islands a half-century ago.

The ruling keeps in place broad coverage for dialysis, chemotherapy, prescription drugs and doctor visits.

“;I'm very happy,”; said Philip Anungar, a Marshall Islands migrant with diabetes who attended the court hearing. “;The judge's decision means we'll go back to what we had before.”;

Hawaii government officials declined to comment after the hearing.

The cash-strapped state wanted to switch about 7,000 legal migrants to the new health insurance program. About 100 of them receive dialysis treatments paid by the state.

The state announced Monday it had found $1.5 million in annual federal Medicaid funding that would continue dialysis coverage for two more years, but chemotherapy and prescription drugs were not included.

Seabright prevented the new plan, called Basic Health Hawaii, from taking effect because its implementation may have violated due process rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

Basic Health Hawaii was announced less than a month ago and without public hearings.

A hearing on an injunction will be held Oct. 19.