HTH briefs 4/23

House, Senate seek compromise on HHSC privatization bill

Legislators will seek compromise today on the details of a bill to research privatization of all or some of the state’s safety net hospitals.

Proponents of privatization include administrators at Hawaii Health Systems Corp. (HHSC), which operates the state’s network of public hospitals, some of which are the only health care option for the communities they serve. As the cost of health care continues to climb, administrators say, their ability to provide quality care with limited resources is being stretched thin.

House Bill 1483 seeks to establish a task force that will conduct a feasibility study of the possibility of allowing one or more regions of HHSC, or one or more of its individual health facilities, to transition to a public-private ownership status. Such a move would clear the way for a takeover of some or all of the health system by a larger, outside entity like Phoenix, Ariz.-based Banner Health Systems, which has been in talks with HHSC since this summer. Banner has expressed interest in taking over operations of HHSC’s Maui and East Hawaii regions, which include eight health facilities on Hawaii Island, Maui, and Lanai.

An alternative bill, Senate Bill 1306, failed to progress this session. It would have allowed for the privatization process to begin outright, foregoing a feasibility study, which is designed to address questions about a move that would have far-reaching effects for how health care is provided in the state.

The final version called for a nine-member task force to include four members appointed by the president of the Senate, four members appointed by the president of the House, and a final member to be selected by the other eight members of the task force.

Governor signs emergency contraception bill

Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a new law Monday requiring hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims.

The signing, in a room packed with supporters, culminated the work of advocates who had spent years pushing the issue at the state capitol.

A similar bill had passed the Legislature 10 years before, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle.

Ann Freed, co-chair of the Hawaii Women’s Coalition, called it a “long day coming.”

“I’d like to say it was a great day,” she said.

“I got really choked up.”

Sen. Josh Green, an emergency room physician and supporter of the bill, estimated as many as 150 people attended the signing.

“I’m extremely proud of the Legislature and the people of Hawaii for almost unanimously supporting this bill,” said Green, D-Kona, Ka‘u.

Opponents of the bill said it would force religiously-based hospitals, such as St. Francis on Oahu, to offer a health service that goes against their beliefs. Critics also compared emergency contraception, which prevents ovulation or a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus, to abortion.

Green said he disagreed with the First Amendment argument against the bill.

“From a health care standpoint, there has to be a higher morality, and that higher morality is that we care for everyone,” he said.

Chamer of commerce opposes employee retention bill

Business leaders are putting on a full-court press in an attempt to stop a bill before that state Legislature that would require buyers of existing Hawaii companies with 100 or more employees companies to retain, with few exceptions, all existing non-supervisory employees.

“We’re informing our membership to let their representatives know that this is going to be harmful to businesses in Hawaii,” Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce President Vaughn Cook said on Monday.

House Bill 634 has passed both legislative chambers and is due before a conference committee to iron out differences in the House and Senate versions at 10:30 a.m. today at the state capitol in Honolulu. If the committee can resolve those differences and hammer out a final draft, the legislation would be sent to Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

“The bill has good intentions to try to help people to keep their jobs, but I believe it will have unintended consequences if it becomes law,” said Cook. “The result is that it’s going to hurt businesses that are in a position where they’re trying to sell, because it’s gonna depress the market value of the businesses by imposing conditions on purchases. Whenever you impose conditions on a purchase, the purchaser is gonna have to factor the cost into how much they’re willing to pay for the company…. You’re gonna make it less likely the purchaser is gonna have the capital needed to survive and restructure.”

In its current form, the measure would also prohibit the buyer of an existing business from requring incumbent employees from filing employment applications with the new company. It would allow for “pre-hire screening of the incumbent employees” including criminal conviction background checks and substance abuse testing.

Those who have submitted written testimony in opposition to the bill include: General Contractors Association of Hawaii; Hawaii Automobile Dealers’ Association; Tesoro Hawaii; and Retail Merchants of Hawaii.

The measure is supported by the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, “provided that its passage does not replace or adversely impact priorities indicated in the Executive Budget,” wrote DLIR Director Dwight Takamine in testimony submitted on April 2.