SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — After nearly 25 years, the wait for federal health benefits for Marshall Islanders may be over.
I cannot describe it.DR. SHELDON RIKLON, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UAMS NW CAMPUS
Sunday, December 20, marked a historic day for the Marshallese community.
After more than two decades, Congress agreed to restore Medicaid for Pacific Islanders living in the United States — by revising an act passed in the mid-90’s that barred Marshallese from the program.
Dr. Sheldon Riklon is part of the Marshallese community and is a physician in Northwest Arkansas.
He said this is huge news for the community.
“They can finally be healthier and they can take care of themselves and their families,” he said.
I think it’s justice.MELISA LAELAN, FOUNDER, ARKANSAS COALITION OF MARSHALLESE
Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese (ACOM) Founder, Melisa Laelan, said this has been an uphill battle since the beginning.
“For over 20 years, we have been crying, we have been telling our stories, but the world decided to ignore us,” she said.
Laelan and Dr. Riklon agree — the coronavirus pandemic finally brought light to the challenges the community has been facing for years.
“The people who needed to make the change saw it, [they] saw the numbers,” Dr. Riklon said. “You cannot deny the data and the numbers of how this affected us.”
Though many Marshallese died due to COVID-19 complications, they didn’t die in vain.
When we got the news, I couldn’t help but think about the lives we couldn’t save.MELISA LAELAN, FOUNDER, ARKANSAS COALITION OF MARSHALLESE
Leaders in the Marshallese community say their deaths brought about change — that will never be forgotten.
“They have fought along with us,” Laelan said.