MAJURO, MARSHALL ISLANDS: The island, as seen from a ship, doesn’t get much wider than this.

An important if comparatively small aspect of the spending deal reached over the weekend is the passage of a measure of delayed justice for people from the Marshall Islands. Politico reports:


Congressional negotiators on Sunday agreed to allow Marshallese living in the United States to sign up for Medicaid, revising a drafting mistake in the 1996 welfare reform bill that barred the islanders from the program, according to three people with knowledge of the deal.


Democratic lawmakers like Sen. Mazie Hirono and her Hawaii colleagues had spent about two decades trying to restore the islanders’ coverage — saying that the United States broke its promise to the Marshallese after using their homeland to test dozens of nuclear bombs — but legislative proposals repeatedly died without Republican support. This spring, the House passed a bill to restore the islanders’ Medicaid for the first time in more than 20 attempts, although it stalled in the Senate.

The decision to bar the Marshallese from Medicaid has contributed to the islanders’ greater rates of sickness and death, researchers have concluded, and those disparities were accelerated by this year’s Covid-19 pandemic, which has ravaged the Marshallese community in the United States.

Somewhere between 5,000 to 15,000 people from the Marshall Islands have settled in Northwest Arkansas, many providing labor in the poultry industry. They’ve been disproportionately victims of the COVID-19 pandemic and their lack of adequate health coverage hasn’t helped.  U.S. News took a deep look at their health dilemma last year.

I got a brief look at the main Marshall Island with a stop in Majuro on a cruise ship earlier this year. Apart from the nuclear legacy, it’s one of many islands imperiled by rising seas. Funny moment: I hired a cab driven by a Marshall Islander who’d recently completed a tour with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. He honked at another car passing by — driven by his sister, just arrived for a visit from Springdale.