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While living with diabetes and high blood pressure, Manuel Sound takes about 11 pills daily and said he feels wary of death. If he missed any of his 3 1/2-hour, thrice-weekly dialysis treatments, his health would be in danger.
"One day you miss, and the poison begins to circulate in your bloodstream. I could die if I'm not careful," said Sound, who has lived in Hawaii for seven years after migrating from Micronesia. "With these budget cuts, I really thought I was going to go."
The state of Hawaii sought to save $15 million by cutting health services to more than 7,000 migrants, who are treated as legal residents lacking citizenship. Their ambiguous status, as well as their cost to taxpayers, led to the state's proposed health reductions.
Both the Hawaii government and the migrants argue that the U.S. government should take responsibility for their health treatments.
But federal Medicaid funding to the migrant islanders was slashed when welfare reform passed in 1996, resulting in Hawaii picking up the tab. U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, said he is trying to reinstate Medicaid benefits for compact migrants as part of the pending health care legislation.
"The United States cannot wash its hands clear of this responsibility because the islands will still have that nuclear testing effect for the next 2,000 years," said William Swain of the Marshallese community organization Pa Emman Kabjere, which means "don't let go of a good hand."
In Swain's family, 15 siblings on his father's side died from cancer, with the men suffering from thyroid cancer and the women from urine and breast cancer, he said. His 12-year-old niece has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and his older brother died from thyroid cancer two months ago.
While the government lacks data showing how quickly people are moving from these island nations, there were about 12,215 migrants of the Compact of Free Association states living in Hawaii in 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Many of the migrants said it's racially discriminatory for the U.S. government to grant lifesaving health coverage to poor Americans while denying it to them.
"It's wrong for people to be so prejudiced," said Tita Raed of Micronesians United. "Most of the people in Hawaii moved here. This is not their native island, but they're upset when other people move here."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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