Preserving Benefits For Our Retirees
The top priority for our seniors and groups like AARP recently was protecting Kupuna Care, which serves the non-Medicaid eligible gap group of Hawaii residents age 60+ who live at home and are impaired in at least two activities of daily living. For a time, funding for Kupuna Care was cut out of the budget entirely. Losing it “would be a blow to Hawaii seniors who rely on basic care to stay in their homes – such as a hot meal, help with chores and a bath several times a week,” said AARP Hawaii State Director Barbara Kim Stanton. Fortunately, a number of us banded together and were able to rally enough votes to restore funding for Kupuna Care just before we closed the budget negotiations. In addition to the $3.5 million for Kupuna Care services, the appropriation provided $950,000 for senior centers, $200,000 for respite services, and $100,000 for the Aging and Disability Resource Center.
The Hawaii Children’s Health Care Program is a public-private partnership that enrolled 2,034 keiki when it last ended on December 31st, 2008. Its goal was to provide coverage to so-called “gap children”—kids who were uninsured, but whose families didn’t qualify for other state and federal programs like Medicaid either because of income or residency status. In 2008 alone, uninsured children paid 3,302 visits to state emergency rooms at a total cost of $4.4 million. “Taxpayers should know it is cheaper to cover kids with health insurance than cover expensive hospital costs for uninsured kids,” said Barbara Luksch, project director of Hawaii Covering Kids.
We passed House Bill 989, which extended Keiki Care until 2012. Unfortunately, the bill was vetoed at the time by Governor Lingle, and even though the Governor’s veto was unanimously overridden 25-0 by Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, and overwhelmingly overridden 44-2 in the House, the administration chose not to release the funding. There are still thousands of children in our communities whose parents cannot afford basic healthcare for their children. If they get sick, they end up in the emergency room and taxpayers pay more for their care there. We might as well provide preventative care at a cheaper cost to keep our kids healthy, and taking care of these kids continues to be a priority I hope the Abercrombie Administration embraces.
Keeping Waimanalo Health Center Open
When Waimanalo Health Center opened its dental clinic, I was honored to have been on hand for the dedication ceremony. However, state funding for the dental services that the health center provides was cut shortly thereafter. On top of this, the state administration had not been paying its bills to the health center, and more than $80 million dollars the state owed to our community health centers such as Waimanalo went unpaid. For a time, it appeared that Waimanalo Health Center might have to scale back operations if the state did not follow through with its debt. I sit on the House Finance Committee, and when we grilled the administration’s department directors and found out about this, we could not believe that such large bills were going unpaid, at the risk of shutting down community health providers.
We ended up restoring nearly $100 million dollars in funding in the state budget to fulfill the state’s financial obligations and pay for the critical health care services our local health centers provide.