Funding Helps State Hospitals, But Hawaii Dead Last in Medical Reimbursements

By Leland Kim

Some financial relief for Hawaii hospitals is in sight. More than $14 million in federal funding has been approved to help offset costs of taking care of uninsured patients.

But bigger challenges keep health care as a major issue in our state.

Health care providers say this money is a step in the right direction, but another concern is how Hawaii compares to the mainland in terms of reimbursements. The result is not surprising to those deep in the medical trenches.

A big check to help alleviate a big problem in our state.

Hawaii’s public and private hospitals will receive $14.4 million, for taking care of uninsured patients. But bigger issues threaten to collapse our health care system.

“We have wonderful health care in the state, and we have things that threaten or endanger that wonderful health care,” said Susan Murray, chairperson of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii. “We have rising costs. We have shrinking reimbursements. These are the things we deal with every day.”

A recent study released in November shows Hawaii trailing the country in overall payment reimbursements as a percentage of costs.

The national average is 104 percent, which means providers receive four percent above their costs. Hawaii is dead last at 92 percent, according to a study complied by Ernst & Young and commissioned by the Hawaii Health Information Corporation.

This means our hospitals are losing money, and with more and more doctors leaving Hawaii, not enough of them are available to provide care.

“The patients need to get into the hospitals and the patients are held back,” said Tom Driskill, president and CEO of the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation. “And overlay everything I just said with our physician concerns. Major, major issues.”

The high cost of malpractice insurance has also driven away doctors. Lt. Governor James “Duke” Aiona (R-Hawaii) favors tort reform, which would reduce frivolous malpractice lawsuits.

“We’re very supportive of (tort reform),” he said. “We believe that is a major factor in some of the health care issues that we have.”

The Lingle/Aiona administration is also considering incentives for doctors to stay in Hawaii after they finish their training, like tuition waiver for medical students to stay in Hawaii after they finish their training, and setting up residency programs on neighbor islands.

“I think those are the kinds of things that will help short term,” said Aiona. ‘Long term, I think we have a lot more that needs to be implemented.”

A lot more to fix the health care crisis in Hawaii

After the first of the year, Hawaii lawmakers may consider legislation that could help reverse the trend of doctors moving away from Hawaii, and nurses leaving the profession.
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