I know there are a lot of other important things going on in the world. But, tonight’s game between Gonzaga and Baylor for the Men’s NCAA College Basketball National Championship is on my list of things I will be watching tonight at 3:20 PM HST. If you missed the winning shot from Saturday, it was quite a moment and worth a quick view even if you’re not a college sports fan.
I graduated from Gonzaga back in 1997. We’ve had a heckuva run since then, making all of the NCAA tournaments since 1999. But, we’ve yet to win it all. So, keep your fingers crossed for the little school in the Pacific NW.
1. Budget passes Ways & Means
The Senate Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing on Thursday on HB 200 – the $31.36 billion ($15.17 billion general funds) two-year budget bill that previously passed the House. The committee received over 500 pages of written testimony on the budget from state agencies, community programs, and concerned individuals.
The Department of Health testified in opposition to several agency cuts included in the budget, and the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation requested $198.7 million in additional funds to cover collective bargaining raises that were negotiated by the state and to account for lost revenue due to COVID-19. Multiple community organizations and concerned citizens testified against a budget item (HTH 501) that would reduce positions and funding for the Developmental Disabilities Division. The Ways and Means Committee passed the bill with amendments on Thursday.
2. DOH report highlights COVID disparities
Despite making up just four percent of Hawaii’s population, Pacific Islanders accounted for 24% of the state’s diagnosed COVID-19 cases through the end of January. During this time, Hawaii had the lowest COVID mortality rate in the country at 22 deaths per 100,000. However, at an estimated mortality rate of 319.6 per 100,000 for Pacific Islanders, the DOH estimates this group has the highest mortality rate in the country.
The Hawaii State Department of Health released these statistics as part of its recent “Addressing Health Equity in Diverse Populations” report. The latest DOH data also reflects disparities in vaccinations with Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities (25% of the state population) receiving just 12% of vaccine doses.
3. An optimistic economic outlook
UHERO Executive Director Carl Bonham, PhD, says Hawaii’s economic outlook looks even more optimistic than previously predicted thanks to the influx of federal aid from the American Rescue Plan Act and the increase in vaccinated Hawaii residents. Based on the Economic Pulse data – which tracks information such as daily visitor counts, mobility data, and job openings – Bonham says Hawaii has recovered about 56% of the economic activity lost since April at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bonham also describes the recent tourism recovery in Hawaii as being “pretty astounding.” In March, arrivals into Hawaii were 45% of their 2019 levels. By summer, total visitors to Hawaii could be about 70% of 2019 levels, though this would largely be driven by visitors from the United States. International travelers only recovered to 2% of 2019 levels for the month of March, likely due to continued travel restrictions and slower vaccine rollouts in other countries, says Bonham.
4. DHS announces Medicaid RFP results
Last month, the Hawaii Department of Human Services (DHS) announced the awardees for its new Medicaid managed care contracts, concluding what had been at times a long and contentious process. DHS released the latest RFP in December, after rescinding the previously announced awards that would have reduced the number of plans to two on neighbor islands.
The end result is that AlohaCare, HMSA, ‘Ohana Health Plan, and United Healthcare Community Plan were awarded statewide contracts, and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan was awarded a contract for Oahu and Maui only. In its award announcement, DHS stated: “QUEST Integration members will continue to receive service through their currently enrolled health plan since there will be no changes to the current health plans nor to the areas that they serve.”
5. Hawaii stories at our federal conference
It’s a big week here at State of Reform as we look forward to hosting the 2021 State of Reform Federal Health Policy Conference on April 7-8. This two-day conference is bringing together some of the most influential voices shaping federal health policy like Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Ron Wyden and HELP Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray who will both join us as keynote speakers this year.
We are also looking forward to hearing voices from Hawaii on our “State Case Study: Hawaii” panel which will feature a conversation on the state’s efforts at system reform. We’ll hear from Med-QUEST Administrator Judy Mohr Peterson, Insurance Commissioner Colin Hayashida, and Mark Mugiishi, President and CEO of HMSA. We pushed the conference too late in the day Eastern Time so that folks from Hawaii can join the conversation without a trip to DC. We’d be honored to have you join us.