5 Things Hawaii: Q&A w/ Jill Tokuda, Medicaid redetermination, Youth mental health


Emily Boerger


Recent weeks have seen a flurry of election announcements for statewide positions. This month’s edition of “5 Things” features a Q&A with former State Senator Jill Tokuda who recently announced she will again run for lieutenant governor. We’ll reach out to more candidates in the coming months for conversations on their visions for the future of health policy and health care in Hawaii.

Thanks for reading!

Emily Boerger
Managing Editor
State of Reform


1. Q&A: Jill Tokuda, candidate for LG

Jill Tokuda, former chair of the Hawaii Senate Ways And Means Committee, announced her bid for lieutenant governor last month. In this Q&A with State of Reform Reporter Nicole Pasia, Tokuda shares what health care issues she would prioritize during her term, her thoughts on making Hawaii a more affordable place to live, and how she envisions the role of the LG.

Tokuda says funding for mental health and ensuring access to early childhood opportunities are particularly important issues for her. She also says drawing down all available federal funds and utilizing them effectively is top of mind. “About 20% of our entire state budget, so one in five dollars of the state budget, is coming from the federal government … and to me it requires executive execution to be able to make sure that it’s both monitored and actually getting out there, but more so that we’re maximizing our ability to draw down.”


2. Preparation for Medicaid redetermination

State leaders are preparing for the impending end of the federal public health emergency declaration, which will instigate a lengthy eligibility redetermination process for the close to one in three Hawaii residents who are currently enrolled in Medicaid. Med-QUEST enrollments have increased 32% over the pandemic, according to Deputy Director Meredith Nichols.

Nichols estimates 20-30% of the state’s Med-QUEST members will need to have their eligibility reassessed. She says the division is working to ensure that member transitions will be as seamless as possible. “People have been through trauma and stress. The last thing we’re interested in doing is adding to anybody’s stress. Our goal is to really dig into how to maintain people’s enrollment if they’re eligible … We are taking five layers of effort before [we] terminate anyone’s case.”


3. Early Bird registration ends Friday!

A big thank you to our Convening Panel members who recently got together to discuss the topics and issues that will shape our Topical Agenda for the 2022 Hawaii State of Reform Health Policy Conference on January 12. It was an energetic conversation and one that we are honored to host.

We will release the Topical Agenda later this month, but if you already know that you want to join us, be sure to take advantage of the Early Bird registration pricing. These discounted rates end on Friday, so now is the time to sign up if you’d like to save a few bucks!

4. Experts discuss youth mental health challenges & opportunities

There are likely 39,520 – 60,800 young people in Hawaii who experience a mental health disorder annually. That’s according to a December 2020 report from the DOH, which also detailed the impact of the pandemic on youth rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

State of Reform caught up with four behavioral health experts for a conversation on what the state, providers, schools, and communities can do to help. The conversation touches on a broad range of opportunities including the use of peer support groups, expanded telehealth, care integration, and improvements to community resilience.

5. Video: The future of gene therapy

Bhash Parasuraman, vice president of value and access for rare disease and internal medicine at Pfizer, recently joined State of Reform for a conversation on the future of gene therapy. As part of our virtual “Leadership Series,” Parasuraman discussed the policies she’d like to see to support these treatments, barriers to access, and the outlook for the road ahead.

When asked about some of the policymaking that needs to take place to better support gene therapies, Parasuraman said it’s important to look at innovative payment models because unlike most medicines today, gene therapies are one-time treatments. “These are going to be more expensive and that’s going to create some budget challenges, particularly for Medicaid… There needs to be mechanisms or policy changes in place to allow for different payment models.”