Immigrant health funds
mostly back in budget

Isle officials stress that needs
are outpacing the care program

Most of the funding that had been deleted from the state budget for health care for immigrants was restored in the final measure sent to the governor by the Legislature.

State of Hawaii However, $50,000 was cut from the Hawaii Immigrant Health Initiative, "which represents about 125 people whose care won't be covered and the safety net will have to eat the cost," said Beth Giesting, Hawaii Primary Care Association executive director.

She said that program funding of $590,000 was "pretty manini" compared to the need. About $65,000 worth of bills for services couldn't be covered in the last fiscal year because the community health centers ran out of money, she said.

"We're outpacing the program again this year (at about $400 per patient) so any cut hurts," she said.

But "given the desperate fiscal climate the Legislature (faced)," she said, "it is a relief to come up with most of the funding intact."

State funding for MedQUEST coverage for immigrants from the Marshall Islands and Micronesia was fully restored for the first year of the two-year budget, she said.

Citizens of the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia have access to those services in the United States but under the 1996 welfare reform act they're ineligible for federally funded benefits, including Medicare and Medicaid.

Giesting and Richard Meiers, president and chief executive officer of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said they were alarmed when about $7.9 million was chopped from the proposed state budget for low-income immigrants and migrants from Compacts of Free Association nations.

"We're very pleased that funds were restored and disappointed that the full amount wasn't restored because of the impact this will have on this segment of the population," Meiers said.

The Senate had deleted the state funding in anticipation of $15 million a year proposed in President Bush's budget to offset costs of services to people from the compact nations.

However, the federal money wouldn't be available until Oct. 1 if it is appropriated, and it must be shared by Hawaii, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa.

All but American Samoa have provided those services with little federal assistance.

Senate Health Chairwoman Rosalyn Baker (D, Honokohau-Makena) said the state money was restored only for one year to see what will happen on the federal level.


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