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Health system partnership bill headed to committee

April 4, 2014 - 12:05am

A bill establishing a framework to allow partnerships between the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. and private health care providers is headed to a conference committee, after the House Finance Committee unanimously passed it Tuesday.

Senate Bill 3064 would allow HHSC to transition one or more of its regions to the control of a nonprofit corporation “to implement a more economically efficient system of health care delivery in the communities being served.”

What that means, says Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona, who introduced the measure, is that HHSC would finally be able to work with private hospitals to become more streamlined in how they offer care and address staffing needs. But to protect current HHSC employees, the bill also includes measures that guarantee existing contracts would be honored.

That measure, and another requirement from the original bill, that the private partner maintain all services the hospitals provide, to ensure even nonprofitable forms of care remain available, both moved forward with the House’s amended version, Green said.

“The House has made some amendments, which are pretty good overall,” Green said Thursday.

Included in those changes is the creation of a negotiating team to help with the transition from publicly run to a private partnership, he said. Green would like to see the public and the medical community represented on that team, and will introduce a measure to that effect while the bill is in conference.

He would also like to see his preference that any partner be a health care organization with a long history of providing care in Hawaii be strengthened in the legislation.

“We’re working with the attorney general to make sure anybody who bids has a long history of treating our community,” Green said, adding he would like to see HHSC hospitals partner with either The Queen’s Medical Center, Hawaii Pacific Health or Kaiser Permanente.

Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-Kona, who voted in favor of the amended bill on Tuesday, said she supported those preferred partners as well, because she believed those companies “know Hawaii (and) that people would trust the name.”

In 2012, when Arizona-based Banner Health expressed interest in Maui Memorial Medical Center and Kona Community Hospital, people became concerned about what the company would do to Hawaii hospitals and employees, Lowen said. Those concerns were heightened when people learned about some of Banner’s actions on the mainland, which some people characterized as “anti-union,” she said.

“It certainly seems like this bill has more going for it than the ones we have had in the past,” Lowen said.

The protective measures aren’t enough for the Hawaii Government Employees Association, which opposed the bill.

“The language does not sufficiently identify the long-term liabilities the state would face through provider subsidies,” Executive Director Randy Perreira said in written testimony. “Furthermore, we believe the Legislature should address concerns with the current governance of the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation as opposed to having new providers come in and manage the system.”

HHSC Acting President and CEO Alice Hall offered a few criticisms of the amended measures. One, she said, was that the transition committee was not fully defined.

“In addition, the voting and decision making mechanism is not defined,” Hall said in written testimony. “Will it be a majority vote to make decisions?”

The amendments would require the Legislature to approve any partnership, Green said.

Green said he was excited to see the bill progress to conference committee. He said he plans to open the conference in mid-April, with drafts completed by April 23. By the evening of April 25, he said, he’ll know whether the measure will pass this session.

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