Health care highlights as Hawaii’s 2019 legislative session wraps up

Thursday marked the 60th and final day of Hawaii’s 2019 legislative session. Over the course of session, lawmakers introduced over 3,000 bills, with nearly 300 bills ultimately passing both chambers.

Though a majority of the bills have not yet been signed or sent to the governor’s desk, here is a wrap-up of notable health care legislation that passed in both the House and Senate this year:


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  • SB 471 invests a total of $21.6 million between 2019 and 2021 in addressing homelessness in Hawaii. Specifically, it allocates $3.75 million to the Housing First program, $3.75 million for the Rapid Re-housing program, $1.55 million toward family assessment centers, and $1.75 million for homeless outreach and civil legal services, yearly. Also included in the funding is $1 million for the state rent supplement program.
  • SB 398 requires DHS and state procurement offices to create a program to provide training on government procurement to nonprofit organizations that offer homeless outreach services in rural parts of the state. The goal of the bill is to train nonprofits on proposal and bid processes so they can more effectively offer their services.  
  • HB 257 authorizes the use of private land for the Ohana Zones Pilot Program, which provides temporary housing and services to homeless individuals. The legislation extends the Ohana Zones pilot by two years, to 2023, and extends both the Emergency Department Homelessness Assessment Pilot and the Medical Respite Pilot programs to June 30, 2020.



The Legislature also passed SB 535, authorizing pharmacists to prescribe and dispense opioid overdose reversal medication to patients considered at risk for overdose.


Kupuna Care:

A series of Kupuna Caucus bills, aimed at supporting elder services in Hawaii, made it through both chambers in April. The legislation includes a bill that appropriates over $8 million for 2019-2021 to fund the Kupuna Care Program, a bill that provides additional support for the Kupuna Caregivers Program, and a bill that appropriates $550,000 to the Executive Office on Aging’s Healthy Aging Partnership program.



Described as an “intermediate step to implementing a full Medicaid buy-in program,” SB 330 would implement an “earned income disregard program.” The program would allow individuals with disabilities between the age 16 and 64 to earn income without losing Medicaid benefits. The Department of Human Services would disregard income of 138% of the federal poverty level or below.


Behavioral and Mental Health:

The Legislature passed several bills related to suicide prevention and promoting awareness of the increase of youth suicides in Hawaii. HB 655 designates September as “Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month,” HB 330 appropriates $150,000 to the DOH to support youth suicide intervention, prevention, and education, and SB 383 requires the development of a mandatory youth suicide awareness and prevention training program for public and charter schools.

Bills aimed at making changes to Hawaii’s Assisted Community Treatment (ACT) law also progressed this session. The ACT law, which passed in 2013, allows judges to require individuals with severe mental illness to undergo intensive outpatient treatment. SB 567 appropriates $100,000 for legal assistance related to ACT petitions and court proceedings; SB 1124 directs health providers with psychiatric specialization to determine if an individual is suited for the ACT plan prior to discharge from a psychiatric facility.

SB 1494 will establish a workgroup within the DOH to identify steps to promote care coordination and behavioral health integration for individuals experiencing mental illness, substance abuse, or homelessness. The workgroup will submit a report to the Legislature on findings and recommendations prior to the start of the 2020 legislative session.



SB 1246 is a bill designed to increase adoption and access to telehealth services across the state. The bill establishes a State Strategic Telehealth Advisory Council, a Telehealth and Health Care Access Coordinator position, and a Telehealth Administrative Simplification Working Group to report to the Legislature.