STATE OF THE UNION
Bush's Medicare plan met with praise, financial questions
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By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i health insurance organizations yesterday applauded President Bush's idea to give prescription drug benefits to senior citizens who sign up with private insurers, but they wondered where the money will come from to pay for the plan.
"It's an expensive proposition," said Cliff Cisco of the Hawai'i Medical Service Association. "The presumption here is that President Bush is going to find a way to pay for it."
Like Cisco, Chris Pablo of Kaiser Permanente Hawai'i said he needed more information before he could assess the effects of Bush's idea.
"It's hard to comment on a moving target," he said. "The good news is that seniors will be provided with drugs. Under the current reimbursement, you can't afford to provide it."
Greg Marchildon, executive director of the AARP Hawai'i, said, "we're encouraged that the president has put forward a proposal to bring Medicare into the 21st century and a Medicare benefit that would at least look to adding a prescription benefit for some people."
Marchildon, however, worries that Bush's idea would cover only people who enroll in some sort of private plan.
"The prescription drug plan needs to be available to everybody in Medicare," he said.
Bush's comments on Medicare and prescription drugs came a day after state House leaders proposed a new state authority that would combine all public and private healthcare insurance coverage into a single state-run insurance fund. In theory, the new fund would cover everyone in Hawai'i.
Bruce Coppa, executive director of the Pacific Resource Partnership, the market recovery program of the Hawai'i carpenters' union and its union contractors, appreciated that federal and state officials were focusing on healthcare problems.
"The whole concept of government is that it is the safety net for citizens," Coppa said. "That's what government is supposed to do. ... We just need to make sure we're looking at all of the options."
Hawai'i businesses in general had several concerns about House Bill 1617 supported by Rep. Dennis Arakaki, chairman of the House Health Committee, and House Speaker Calvin Say. They especially flinched at the idea of a new state authority that would combine all public and private healthcare coverage into a single state-run insurance fund.
"Oh my God," said Mike Kitagawa, who has run Mike Kitagawa Chevron on Maui for 31 years. "They want to create another agency? It's broken right there. It sounds really bad."
Like business people around the Islands, Kitagawa had little hope that the dual federal and state efforts in the name of healthcare reform would help either him or his 27 employees.
Kitagawa remembers the days when full health insurance coverage for his employees cost $35 a month. Now he pays $4,400 per month to give each of them full coverage.
One of the reasons for the so-called "universal healthcare" bill is the growing number of complaints from businesses about the mandatory and rising cost of healthcare premiums, said Ara-kaki, D-30th, (Moanalua, Kalihi Valley, 'Alewa).
Hawai'i spends $4.96 billion on healthcare each year, or 11.7 percent of the gross state product. The cost has jumped 20 percent in the past 10 years, Arakaki said.