For Immediate Release

Feb. 92021


John Lyon
Strategic Communications Manager


LITTLE ROCK ― The Health Policy Board of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement is calling on the Arkansas General Assembly and Gov. Asa Hutchinson to allow Compact of Free Association, or COFA, islanders living in Arkansas, including the Marshallese, to have access to the state’s Medicaid program.

In a letter sent Monday to legislative leaders and Hutchinson, the board urged adoption of Senate Concurrent Resolution 5 by Sen. Lance Eads, R-Springdale, and Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs. The resolution would encourage the governor to seek approval from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to provide access to Arkansas Medicaid coverage to COFA islanders living in Arkansas.

COFA is a treaty agreement established between the U.S. and three island nations ― the Marshall Islands, Palau, and Micronesia ― where the U.S. military tested nuclear bombs in the 1940s and 1950s. COFA islander adults living in the U.S. were excluded from Medicaid coverage under a 1996 federal law that denied Medicaid benefits to resident foreigners. A spending package approved by Congress in December restored federal Medicaid access to COFA islanders, but Arkansas must obtain federal approval for a state plan amendment to provide COFA islander adults with access to the Arkansas Medicaid program, including the Medicaid expansion program known as Arkansas Works.

Arkansas has one of the largest Marshallese populations outside of the islands, with an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 living in the state, primarily in Northwest Arkansas. The ACHI board said in its letter that the Marshallese experience disproportionately high rates of health conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, and they have accounted for a disproportionate share of COVID-19 cases and associated deaths. Providing Medicaid access to this population is long overdue, the board said.

“With Medicaid coverage for COFA islander adults available through submission of a state plan amendment, ensuring culturally sensitive outreach and education in order to optimize enrollment among the Marshallese should become a priority,” the board said in its letter. “The Health Policy Board of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement stands ready to assist in those efforts.”

ACHI is a nonpartisan, independent health policy center that serves as a catalyst for improving the health of all Arkansans through evidence-based research, public issue advocacy, and collaborative program development. Its Health Policy Board, consisting of 21 voting members and two ex-officio members, is an independent, self-perpetuating board that guides ACHI’s involvement in and positions on specific policy matters.

The board members are:

  • Jerry Adams, President & CEO, Arkansas Research Alliance
  • Chris Barber, President & CEO, St. Bernards Healthcare
  • Lawrence “Larry” Braden, MD, Family Medicine, Ouachita Valley Family Clinic
  • Sandra J. Brown, MPH, MSN, RN, CEO, Jefferson Comprehensive Care System, Inc.
  • Rick Elumbaugh, Mayor, City of Batesville
  • Joe Fox, MBA, President, CBI Investments
  • Stephanie Gardner, PharmD, EdD Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost, UAMS Academic Affairs
  • Ray Hanley, President & CEO, Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care
  • Don Hollingsworth, JD, Retired Executive Director, Arkansas Bar Association
  • Andrew Kumpuris, MD (Vice Chair), Cardiologist, CHI St. Vincent Heart Clinic Arkansas
  • Marquita Little Numan, Leadership Officer, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation
  • Jayme Mayo, PA-C, Wellness Director, Nabholz
  • Eddie Ochoa, MD, Associate Professor, Arkansas Children’s Hospital
  • Marcus Osborne, Senior Vice President, Walmart
  • James “Skip” Rutherford III, Dean, UA, Clinton School of Public Service
  • Herb Sanderson, State Director, AARP Arkansas
  • G. Richard Smith, MD, Marie Wilson Howells Professor and Chair, Department of, Psychiatry, College of Medicine, Director, UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute
  • F.S. “Sandy” Stroope, Executive Director, Arkansas Motor Vehicle Commission
  • Joe Thompson, MD, MPH (Ex-Officio), President & CEO, Arkansas Center for Health Improvement
  • Annabelle Imber Tuck, JD (Chair), Public Service Fellow & Jurist-in-Residence, William H. Bowen School of Law, Retired Justice, Arkansas Supreme Court
  • Susan Ward-Jones, MD, CEO, East Arkansas Family Health Center, Inc.
  • Mark Williams, PhD (Ex-Officio), Dean, UAMS, College of Public Health
  • Namvar Zohoori, MD, MPH, PhD, Deputy State Health Officer, and Chief Science Officer, Arkansas Department of Health