Legislators hope governor will act to revive Keiki Care


POSTED: Sunday, May 10, 2009

A program to provide health coverage for uninsured children designed by the Legislature and closed down by Gov. Linda Lingle last year would be restored by a bill that provides $600,000 to fund the Keiki Care program over three years.

“;It's a small investment in the children of Hawaii statewide,”; said House Health Chair Ryan Yamane (D, Mililani-Waipio Gentry).

Yamane and other lawmakers held a news conference yesterday urging the governor to recognize growing health-care needs in the declining economy.

The Legislature approved the measure, which is now on the governor's desk.

The Keiki Care program began last April with the Hawaii Medical Service Association and state Department of Human Services as partners. Their goal was to provide coverage for up to 3,500 “;gap group”; children who don't qualify for Medicaid or QUEST because family income is too high.

About 2,000 children were enrolled when the administration halted funding in October, citing “;limited success”; of the plan and no federal matching funds for state costs. HMSA continued coverage until the end of the year and contacted all families to offer them its Children's Plan.

Senate Health Committee Chairman David Ige (D, Aiea-Pearl City) said primary health care will be provided in the new program by 14 community health centers statewide.

HMSA still will be a partner, with funding not yet determined, said Jennifer Diesman, assistant vice president of government relations.

The new program is aimed at linking uninsured families with community health centers as a “;medical home”; rather than showing up for costly services at hospital emergency rooms, the legislators said.

Dr. Emmanuel Kintu, Kalihi Palama Health Center executive director, said the centers hope to “;crush the myth”; that they provide substandard care.

“;Our results are at or better than average when we see the sickest patients,”; he said.

Moreover, patients don't just get a pill for a headache or a shot at a community center, he said. The centers offer comprehensive services ranging from health and dental care to translators and transportation, he said.

Beth Giesting, Hawaii Primary Care Association chief executive officer, said the centers also help families enroll in free public health insurance or other programs they might be eligible for.

Ige said the centers are “;at the front line”; of providing care and focused on prevention.