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HONOLULU — Members of the Hawaii Senate Health Committee have approved a bill that would explore whether some of the state’s public hospitals should become private.

Mounting costs and limited finances are straining hospital resources on Maui and the Big Island but unions are worried privatizing hospitals will mean lost jobs. Currently, the neighbor island hospitals are administrated by the Hawaii Health Systems Corp.

The Senate passed a separate bill last week that would give state hospitals a pathway to become private. The bill considered Friday was the House’s version of the proposal, a more cautious approach that assigns a task force to study the the feasibility of allowing the operations of HHSC regions and their facilities to transition to a public-private partnership.

Senators voted to expand the task force and chose not to align the measure with the Senate’s more ambitious version. Health Committee Chairman Josh Green, D-Kona-Kohala, says there are still many unanswered questions that the task force could help answer.

The legislation has taken center stage among a number of other important health care-related measures after it was learned in January that HHSC has been in talks with Phoenix-based private nonprofit provider Banner Health to take over the state’s eastern region of facilities, including Hawaii Island and Maui.

HHSC says such a partnership is necessary to combat rising costs, dwindling state subsidies, and a drop in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. Both HHSC and Banner representatives say they are far from arriving at a deal, but Legislative approval is an important step in that process.