Health care bills we’re watching in Hawaii

There have been a flurry of health-related bills introduced during the first two weeks of Hawaii’s 2019 legislative session. From mental health and homelessness, to a long list of potential new pilot programs, here are eight bills that caught our eye:


Mental Health:

HB 1597: This bill would establish a new long-term care facility to treat non-forensic mental health patients. Currently, the Hawaii State hospital in Kaneohe has an overload of forensic patients (individuals receiving treatment mandated by criminal court) and has reached capacity, leaving no options for non-forensic patients. The bill aims to appropriate $2 million (or as much as may be necessary) for both 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. The bill would also require that homeless patients receive priority admission to the facility.

HB 234: The purpose of this bill is to address Hawaii’s gap in services for individuals who are both homeless and have severe mental illness. This bill would require the Department of Human Services to issue request for proposals “to contract for services and housing for homeless individuals with severe mental illness who are discharged from acute care and require further medical treatment and other supportive services.” The hope is that the availability of these services might slow down the common cycle between homelessness, emergency room treatment, incarceration, and hospitalization.



HB 1337: This bill would enact a series of provisions to address homelessness in Hawaii. Some of those provisions include the establishment of a “community shelter commission” within each county composed of members of the state, county, and community. Each county’s community shelter commission would be charged with selecting public property to be used for providing homeless shelters, facilities, and programs. This bill would also increase the conveyance tax and direct the revenue to be spent on homeless programs and facilities through the Department of Human Services.

SB 229: According to this piece of legislation, almost half of renters in Hawaii spend over 30 percent of their income on rent due to a “severe shortage” of affordable rental units. If passed, the bill would authorize $125 million in general obligation bonds for the rental housing revolving fund, and authorize $75 million from the general fund for the construction of new low-income rental housing units to be used as permanent supportive housing.

SB 471/HB 643: The purpose of this bill is to continue the large investments in addressing homelessness that Hawaii has made in recent years. Specifically, the bill allocates $16.5 million for outreach, the rapid re-housing program, law enforcement assisted diversion programs, and the coordinated statewide homelessness initiative. The bill also includes $800,000 to establish a short-term rental assistance pilot program and $1.5 million to establish a long-term rental assistance pilot program.


New Pilot Programs:

HB 1447: Multiple studies point to an underutilization of palliative and hospice care in Hawaii compared to the rest of the United States. According to the bill, this may be due, in part, to Hawaii’s culture which emphasizes caring for loved ones at home rather than in nursing homes. To address this, HB 1447 would require the Department of Health to establish a “culturally competent palliative care pilot program” to promote palliative care utilization. The program would utilize $350,000 in general revenues to provide public education on palliative care, conduct bidding for community-based palliative care projects, and collect local health care utilization data.

SB564: This bill would require the Department of Human Services to create a 3-year pilot project to procure services to operate a shelter providing mental health treatment for homeless individuals who are subject to court-ordered treatment or guardianship, as well as homeless individuals with mental illness that are frequent users of emergency medical services. The shelter would serve no more than eight homeless individuals at a time, with the goal of transitioning these individuals to a group home within 12 weeks.

HB 1089: This bill aims to address Hawaii’s physician workforce shortage. Rather than adding faculty or expanding facilities to train additional medical students in Hawaii, sponsors of the bill want to study the impact of financially assisting Hawaii residents in attending medical school in the Philippines. The bill would require the Department of Health to “conduct a study regarding the establishment of a pilot program under which residents of Hawaii may pursue a doctor of medicine degree at a college of medicine in the Philippines, with state-provided financial support, in exchange for a commitment to practice medicine in Hawaii after they graduate.”