5 Things Hawaii: Legislative session in review, Health funding in the budget, Mental health solutions

Vaccines are likely to be approved for our 12-16 year olds next week. Pres. Biden has set the goal of 70% of Americans to be vaccinated with a first dose by July 4th. Israel saw something like herd immunity kick in around 55-60% vaccination rates, so we are close. Things are moving in the right direction.

So, perhaps it’s time to start hugging friends we haven’t seen in months. And, if you know of folks who are vaccinated but still in isolation away from the pandemic, reach out to see if you might coax them out from behind their anxiety. It’s time to be intentional about testing the waters of a return to whatever our new normal might become.





With help from Emily Boerger

1. Taking a look back at session

Hawaii’s 2021 legislative session wrapped up last week, concluding a session that saw lawmakers pass over 260 bills. Among the health-related policies that passed this year was HB 1284, establishing the all-claims, all-payer data center steering committee, SB 970, which aims to expand access to telehealth, HB 1322, which establishes a trauma-informed care task force within the DOH, and HB 991, which authorizes DOH to disclose vital statistics records for public health purposes.

Paige Heckathorn Choy, Director of Government Affairs at the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, says like most states, the focus of the legislative session was the budget. “I think the budget was really the major concern. I also think there was still an interest in, especially from the health chairs on both the House and Senate side, making sure that we’re still making progress on mental and behavioral health. There is still a focus on trying to build out that infrastructure.”


2. Rep. Belatti discusses the 2021 budget

While addressing the long-term economic needs created by the pandemic was a top priority this session, House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti says lawmakers needed to first stabilize the state budget before they could focus on anything else. In this Q&A, Belatti dives into the details of how the legislature tackled a budget deficit and how lawmakers were able to save critical social services from the chopping block.

Belatti says the federal infusion of funds was crucial to maintaining services. “I think what we were able to do with a combination of federal funds, sweeping of special funds, and the targeted tax increases, was that we didn’t balance the budget on the backs of taxpayers.” She specifically highlights the $14.3 million for homeless services, $5.4 million for general assistance welfare payments, $2.3 million for sexual assault treatment services, and $2.3 million for family health services as some of the key health funding included in the final budget. Her full comments are available here.


3. 5 slides: Raising awareness of mental health solutions

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn has caused widespread despair and feelings of vulnerability. May is mental health awareness month, and on Wednesday, May 26, from 12:00 – 1:00pm HST, we will host an impressive panel of experts for a discussion on the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and Hawaii’s response to people suffering from mental health challenges.

At our “5 Slides: Raising awareness of mental health solutions” virtual conversation we’ll host Lieutenant Governor Josh GreenKumi Macdonald, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – Hawaii, and Katy Akimoto, Senior Vice President of Health Management at HMSA. This event is free to attend, but you have to register to join us. You’ll be able to pose questions and participate in the conversation as well, just as you do in our conferences. So, we’d love to have you with us.


4. Rep. Yamane on the next steps in Hawaii health reform

Following the conclusion of the legislative session, State of Reform Reporter Sydney Kurle caught up with Rep. Ryan Yamane, Chair of the House Health, Human Services, and Homelessness Committee, for his take on the health policy themes that emerged this session. He also discussed where the health policy conversation in Hawaii is headed next.

Looking toward 2022 and beyond, Yamane says he is focused on the sustainability of the state’s mental health framework, public health infrastructure investments, Hawaii’s health care workforce, and finding ways to make the safety net system sustainable. “We’re going to look to see if Medicaid can be used for different approved services that overlap with other state programs, so that we can maximize every dollar that we have.”

5. 73% of uninsured Hawaii residents eligible for Medicaid or ACA subsidies

According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analysis, 73% of the uninsured individuals in Hawaii are already eligible for Medicaid/other public assistance or are eligible for ACA subsidies. Broken down, 48% qualify for Medicaid/CHIP and other public programs, and 25% qualify for subsidized ACA coverage. At 48%, Hawaii has the third highest rate of uninsured who currently qualify for Medicaid.

The analysis takes into account the expanded subsidy structure put in place through the American Rescue Plan Act, which KFF estimates has increased the number of people eligible for subsidized Marketplace coverage by 20%. The analysis also finds that 8% of the uninsured population are ineligible for financial assistance due to citizenship.