Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Public's view sought (Star-Bulletin)

By Mary Adamski

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Dec 22, 2009

Public opinion will be sought at a hearing on the state's plan to reduce medical coverage for Pacific Islanders who migrate to Hawaii under the Compact of Free Association.

The free Basic Health Hawaii program is less comprehensive than the Quest plan, which now covers noncitizens as well as other low-income residents. But the state has agreed to continue to cover kidney dialysis and chemotherapy drugs in response to concerns raised by the Micronesian community.

Advocates for patients were concerned at first glance the proposed program does not specifically guarantee the treatments for kidney failure and cancer, and because the program is limited to 7,000 people.

The state Department of Human Services tried to launch the new program in September as a cost-cutting measure. Director Lillian Koller said the state would save $30 million in the next two years by moving about 7,000 adults from Quest into Basic Health Hawaii.

U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright halted the move, granting a restraining order requested by Lawyers for Equal Justice on behalf of Micronesian plaintiffs. The lawsuit claimed that insufficient notice was given to people whose medical coverage would be reduced.

"We worked with health care providers and the federal government to cover dialysis as an emergency service through Medicaid," said Koller in an announcement. "We also expanded Basic Health Hawaii to cover brand-name drugs, including chemotherapy drugs. This should alleviate any concerns."

The language creating Basic Health Hawaii as part of the state administrative rules does not specifically mention dialysis, which may cause concern among the people to be covered, said state Rep. John Mizuno (D. Kalihi), chairman of the House Human Services Committee. "We need to go carefully through the language to be sure dialysis coverage remains, to be sure it won't be dropped after a couple of months, and that chemotherapy is picked up."

Elizabeth Dunne of Lawyers for Equal Justice said "the maximum enrollment is capped at 7,000, which may preclude new enrollees. That's an issue as far as who will be covered. Another issue is the limit of four prescriptions, which is less than what most people need when they are receiving chemotherapy or dialysis. We are still evaluating to see what action we may take."

The public hearing will at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Liliuokalani Building, 1390 Miller St. Neighbor Island residents may provide testimony by contacting the Med-Quest division on each island. For copies of the proposed rules or information, call 692-8132.

Public opinion will be sought at a hearing on the state's plan to reduce medical coverage for Pacific Islanders who migrate to Hawaii under the Compact of Free Association.

The free Basic Health Hawaii program is less comprehensive than the Quest plan, which now covers noncitizens as well as other low-income residents. But the state has agreed to continue to cover kidney dialysis and chemotherapy drugs in response to concerns raised by the Micronesian community.

Advocates for patients were concerned at first glance the proposed program does not specifically guarantee the treatments for kidney failure and cancer, and because the program is limited to 7,000 people.

The state Department of Human Services tried to launch the new program in September as a cost-cutting measure. Director Lillian Koller said the state would save $30 million in the next two years by moving about 7,000 adults from Quest into Basic Health Hawaii.

U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright halted the move, granting a restraining order requested by Lawyers for Equal Justice on behalf of Micronesian plaintiffs. The lawsuit claimed that insufficient notice was given to people whose medical coverage would be reduced.

"We worked with health care providers and the federal government to cover dialysis as an emergency service through Medicaid," said Koller in an announcement. "We also expanded Basic Health Hawaii to cover brand-name drugs, including chemotherapy drugs. This should alleviate any concerns."

The language creating Basic Health Hawaii as part of the state administrative rules does not specifically mention dialysis, which may cause concern among the people to be covered, said state Rep. John Mizuno (D. Kalihi), chairman of the House Human Services Committee. "We need to go carefully through the language to be sure dialysis coverage remains, to be sure it won't be dropped after a couple of months, and that chemotherapy is picked up."

Elizabeth Dunne of Lawyers for Equal Justice said "the maximum enrollment is capped at 7,000, which may preclude new enrollees. That's an issue as far as who will be covered. Another issue is the limit of four prescriptions, which is less than what most people need when they are receiving chemotherapy or dialysis. We are still evaluating to see what action we may take."

The public hearing will at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Liliuokalani Building, 1390 Miller St. Neighbor Island residents may provide testimony by contacting the Med-Quest division on each island. For copies of the proposed rules or information, call 692-8132

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