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Sunday, May 12, 2002

HMSA complies with statutory requirements

Richard Miller tries to cast a shadow of suspicion on how HMSA reports its annual financial information ("HMSA's accounting demands oversight," Letters, Star-Bulletin, May 6). He questions why HMSA doesn't combine for-profit subsidiaries with the nonprofit business of health plans. The explanation is really quite simple.

The Insurance Division requires health plans to file quarterly and annual financial statements with the state. HMSA is required by statute to file results separate from those of its subsidiaries. Our workers' compensation and life insurance companies also must file quarterly and annual statements with the Insurance Division, and they are audited annually by an independent accounting firm. The Insurance Division conducts its own audit of HMSA and its subsidiaries on a triennial basis.

The HMSA annual membership meeting is for our members. We report on the activities of the health plan, not the subsidiaries. We go over the financial stability of the plan and elect board members and an auditor.

There is nothing suspicious about our accounting procedures or how we present our financial information to the public. If Miller is looking for a good conspiracy, he might want to tune in to "The X-Files."

Steve Van Ribbink

HMSA Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Doctors have 1980 fees, but 2002 costs

HMSA's recent announcement of a $19.1 million net profit should signal no justification for future reduction in physician's reimbursements.

For years, my fellow physicians in pediatrics and internal medicine have had to provide vaccination services at a financial loss. The same situation exists for pathologists' Pap smear reimbursements.

Many of my colleagues have had to borrow from their pension funds to meet the costs of maintaining a 2002 practice on a 1980 fee schedule. Have medical insurance company executives had to experience the same salary reductions?

Malcolm R. Ing, M.D.
Kapiolani Medical Center

Hawaii tax picture differs from mainland

The article "Hawaii has second-worst tax burden" (Star-Bulletin, May 3) is misleading.

With the inclusion of property taxes, Hawaii taxpayers will find that they do not pay more taxes than 48 other states. The property taxes in the other states are far higher, in some cases as much as four times higher than in Hawaii, because they fund public education from this source.

Hawaii, being the only state that operates a statewide public education system, uses general funds for education. In Hawaii, property taxes are used by the counties to fund their expenditures and not for public education.

Roy Tanouye

Assisted-suicide foes only keep dead alive

I wish all those senators and pro-life coalition groups who opposed the assisted-suicide bill in the Legislature will be willing to put their signature on the hospital admission contract as to who will be responsible for the expenses. Yes, I do have long-term care insurance, but there's a limitation clause as to how long it will pay.

The recommendation by senators opposed to the bill, pro-life groups and some doctors is to sedate the patient with more morphine and painkillers. I call that keeping the dead alive.

In all the discussions, not one of the opposing senators or pro-life groups mentioned the cost of keeping a person alive, or what it means to suffer with cancer, as I have seen many of my friends and relatives who have gone through it suffer.

Phillip Ho

Motorists should get oil settlement money

If the oil companies have been ripping off motorists all these years, why is the state getting all that settlement money? Shouldn't that $35 million -- minus lawyer fees -- be distributed to the people?

How about distributing gas coupons to every registered car owner in Hawaii in a proportionate amount until the settlement money is depleted. If the state gets its hands on that money, it will vanish like rain on the beach, and the only ones smiling will be lawyers and politicians, in that order.

Ray Graham

Teachers give their all to help students

During Teacher Appreciation Week I'd like tell others how much our teachers do.

Just recently, a health teacher helped a student write a poem for English, and an English teacher helped him with math. The student thought it was just fantastic that his teachers could help with subjects outside of their own.

Teachers do so much for us, and if they didn't push us so hard, we wouldn't succeed. Sure, sometimes they may be strict (and I can't believe I am saying this), but when they're strict, it's because they care. We don't make things easy for them, but still they come back every day to teach us even more.

So, for any teachers out there, I thank you for everything you do.

Hieu Tran
Grade 8 Moanalua Middle School

Legislators duck important resolutions

Reporter Richard Borreca pointed out that the state Legislature likes to pass feel-good resolutions, like declaring 2003 to be the Year of the Hawaiian Forest ("Nonbinding resolutions show isles have heart," Star-Bulletin, May 7).

But given a chance to express pride that Hawaii is the 50th state, both the Senate and House ducked. Given a chance to debate whether to ask the United Nations to rescue us from U.S. captivity due to an allegedly fraudulent statehood vote of 1959, the House ducked.

These important resolutions were introduced, but they never even had a committee hearing. Politically correct legislators were afraid to go on record to support or oppose patriotism for America, so they buried these resolutions rather than pass the first and reject the second.

Our Legislature showed courage in an honest, gut-wrenching debate of the death-with-dignity bill. We'll give them another chance next year to show similar courage in supporting American patriotism.

Kenneth R. Conklin

Auditors found it hard to say no to Gannett

A few years after Gannett started USA Today, it had a dispute with the Audit Bureau of Circulation about how bulk sales should be counted. Editor & Publisher, the trade publication, reported that Gannett threatened to pull out all of its members -- thus putting the ABC in financial peril -- if its methods were discounted. E&P reported that ABC acquiesced to Gannett's desires.

While I am a Gannett stockholder, I realize that the Star-Bulletin probably has right on its side in its present dispute on circulation.

Charles E. Frankel
Retired Star-Bulletin employee

Legislators can share wealth with citizens

Since the Japanese Cultural Center didn't request the state Legislature's $8 million bailout, I'd like to provide our lawmakers with a list of 80,000 Hawaii taxpayers who would like to have a tax rebate of $100 each instead.

A rebate might go over better with some of us than this outrageous proposal.

John Wray

Consumer legislation was breakthrough

It is exciting to see the strong, new leadership on important consumer issues that emerged this session from the Senate and House consumer protection committees, under the chairmanships of Sen. Ron Menor and Rep. Ken Hiraki, and with the support of Rep. Ed Case.

For years the wealth and power of Hawaii's oligopolistic gasoline producers, of the near-monopoly of Hawaii's fee-for-service health insurer, and of the huge transnational drug industry have assured that any legislation protecting the Hawaii consumer from overpricing or unfair pricing by these giants would be ground up and destroyed before the end of the session. Indeed, the pessimism produced by the perceived power of these giants and their well-paid lobbyists often discouraged efforts even to draft corrective legislation on behalf of consumers.

This year, against all odds, Menor and Hiraki brought forward bills to assure that health insurance rates will be reasonable in light of the benefits provided and not discriminatory; that gasoline prices for Hawaii drivers will bear a relation to competitive prices elsewhere and will not drive up the price of all of our consumer goods, and that Hawaii citizens -- particularly the elderly -- with no prescription drug coverage will be able to fill their needed prescriptions at a significant discount from current soaring prices.

And, against all odds, with the hard work of those small businesses and physicians who understood the real nature of the problem, with the strong support of Governor Cayetano, with the enthusiastic support of a wide range of labor representatives, of citizen's organizations such as the Citizens Against Healthcare Monopolies, Kokua Council, the Hawaii Coalition for Health, and Advocates for Consumer Rights, who banded together, and with the renewed enthusiasm of legislators who sensed the power and importance of a new movement to secure fairness for Hawaii consumers, all three consumer bills now await the governor's signature.

The passage of these bills may mark the initial success of a reborn political movement in Hawaii reminiscent of the pro-people politics that occurred shortly after statehood. This movement has the power to turn around the drift of the past few years toward selfish Republicanism and the dominance of wealth and power over us all.

Richard S. Miller

Legislature's excesses caused 11th-hour grief

I appeared on the May 1 front page of the Star-Bulletin with my head in my hands, above the following caption: "The House floor session continued into last night, briefly tiring Rep. William Stonebraker."

What was actually going through my mind when the photograph was taken? As we came to the end of the session I began to think of what we had done this year at the Legislature. We increased taxes on birth certificates, marriage licenses, employee training, cars, smoking and death. We raided 44 special funds (including the Hurricane Relief Fund) for $170 million, and, though we seem unable to regulate our own spending, we passed a historic amount of regulation (gas price caps and insurance rate oversight).

We added nearly 1,500 government employees to our ranks and increased our budget to $7.4 billion, which nearly doubles what we spent 10 years ago ($3.8 billion in 1992). That's close to $10,000 per taxpayer!

When I considered this enormous burden our government is laying on our citizens and the future generation of children, I had to put my head in my hands in grief and ask myself, "How long will the people of Hawaii tolerate this?" Perhaps November will bring us the answer.

Rep. Bud Stonebraker
R-Hawaii Kai

Mandatory sentences victimize addicts again

To those who advocate prison for the nonviolent drug offender, I must agree that there are no victimless crimes, but punishment must fit the crime. There is no justice in a 5-year term for a Vietnam veteran addicted to heroin or in repeat-offender statutes that dictate mandatory minimums and extended sentences for the neglected or abused child or adult on ice.

Placing nonviolent addicts in prison is a crime within itself. The victims are the addicts, their families and the taxpayer.

Michael Spiker
Inmate Addict

State's fear of lawsuits harms nature's beauty

I hope everyone who is quick to run to an attorney because "nature takes its course" is happy. I hiked Manoa Falls many times while growing up in the valley. As a former Hawaii resident, I know the risks of being surrounded by nature just as I know the benefits and beauty enjoyed by these same risks.

Sitting in the pool at the falls and enjoying the cool breeze that came off the water after a hot hike up the trail was great. Now fears from the Sacred Falls rock fall, and the fact that those injured and the survivors of those killed want compensation, forces the state to balance open nature against dollars.

The full benefit of the falls now must be enjoyed from a platform -- how ridiculous is that? The need for people to find blame with everyone but themselves will continue to take away simple pleasures, such as the full use of this beautiful trail.

We cannot expect the winds, rain, our oceans or majestic mountains to be aware of human frailties. Use common sense, use caution and be aware of your surroundings.

Obviously people do not intentionally place themselves under falling mountains. Nor do mountains or the state intentionally look to injure. People's greed and the state's fear has caused this natural resource to be removed from our reach.

It is ironic that in the Sacred Falls incident no one sued for trail improvements, just cash.

Jimmy Gomes
Las Vegas

President is changing views on environment

I understand the reason for Lei Ding's comments on President Bush's disregard for the environment ("Bush protects cronies at Earth's expense," Star-Bulletin letters, May 9).

But that was the old Bush. The new Bush is more understanding toward the environment, such as his latest effort to increase the average fuel economy of future vehicles and to promote the half-gasoline, half-electric hybrid vehicles to reduce America's demand for crude oil.

This is Bush's first term and he is making great progress in improving our country.

Michael Nomura

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