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Senate considers new take on partnerships for HHSC

February 10, 2014 - 10:17pm

A bill that would clear the way for public-private hospital partnerships in Hawaii is getting across-the-board support.

Testimony for Senate Bill 3064, which was scheduled for a Senate Health Committee hearing Monday afternoon, shows representatives from a number of Hawaii Health Systems Corp. hospitals are in favor of the measure, which would allow nonprofit hospitals already operating in Hawaii to partner with the state-supported facilities. The hearing was in progress as of press time Monday.

Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona, Ka‘u, said the bill addresses some of the concerns raised a few years ago, when a private health group from the mainland sought a partnership with Maui Memorial Medical Center and Kona Community Hospital.

The bill limits the partnerships to “only local partners, because we understand what their track record is” in Hawaii, said Green, who is chairman of the Health Committee.

The measure would require the nonprofits to maintain the HHSC hospital’s current level of services offered, or expand services, as well as honor existing contracts and employee benefits. In return, the state would continue to provide the HHSC hospitals with cash subsidies to operate, Green said. He said he hopes the partnerships would allow the state to reduce those subsidies eventually.

This year, the state will pay about $120 million in subsidies to the HHSC facilities, Green said. With successful partnerships, Green said he would like to see that figure cut in half.

Alice Hall, HHSC’s acting president and CEO, said in written testimony system officials support the bill.

“HHSC’s aging facilities are in need of major updating and repair in order to provide for the well-being and safety of our employees and patients,” Hall wrote.

“Facility infrastructure and grounds will continue to deteriorate resulting in more costly repairs and increased difficulty with recruiting qualified staff. Continued and growing losses by community hospitals will inevitably affect services, accessibility and staffing and the ability for HHSC to remain competitive in service quality and cost will be compromised.

“If not resolved, this may result in possible facility closures and loss of jobs, which will negatively impact communities that HHSC facilities serve, especially low-income and low-income elderly.”

Restructuring HHSC hasn’t stopped the budget shortfalls, Hall said, leaving public-private partnerships as the only viable alternative to improve the aging facilities and health care delivery.

Green said there are private nonprofits interested in some HHSC facilities.

Several members of the East Hawaii Regional Board submitted testimony urging the committee to pass the bill.

Other bills focus on naturopaths, labeling

The Health Committee was scheduled to hear testimony on several other bills of interest to Big Island residents, including a measure introducing new requirements for naturopaths attending to women delivering babies at home.

Green said he’s a strong supporter of home births, but wanted to make sure women and babies were protected during the process, that adequate safety measures are followed and backup plans are in place in the case of an emergency.

That measure, Senate Bill 2070, is fairly controversial, Green said, and has generated significant testimony. The Hawaii Medical Association said it supported the bill’s intent, but preferred a related measure, Senate Bill 2569, which also introduces home birth regulations.

“The HMA is in support of this measure as a way to regulate practitioners who are providing services for money but have little to no clinical training in obstetrics,” HMA’s written testimony said. “If you have to get a license to cut hair you should have to get a license to deliver a baby.”

Opponents noted that naturopaths have been authorized to oversee home births since 1925, and questioned the need for additional regulation.

Jacqueline Hahn, a midwife and naturopathic physician, said she believes the medical community has a bias against home births.

“They are trying to legislate a practice without understanding it,” she said.

The committee received dozens of written testimony supporting Senate Bill 2521, which would require product labels to indicate if genetically modified organisms were used. Green said that measure is less controversial in the health committee than in other committees.

“People have a right to know (what is in food they consume), from a health standpoint,” Green said. Companies such as Monsanto, which has developed a number of genetically modified seeds, still testify against such labeling measures, he added. “I don’t see why the companies continue to resist labeling. It seems pretty disingenuous to me.”

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