Gov openGov. Ben Cayetano said he would veto any measure to repeal the bill he signed Thursday reforming the state's health plan for public employees, but he said he would consider changes to the legislation.
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By Bruce Dunford
Cayetano reacted yesterday to comments by public employee union leaders that they will press hard next year for the repeal the law that passed Tuesday on a 13-12 vote in the Senate and a 38-13 vote in the House.
It was one of Cayetano's major civil service reform measures approved by lawmakers in the face of heavy lobbying from the politically powerful unions.
"I think that if they repeal the law next year, then they'll have to override my veto," Cayetano said. "I don't think they're going to repeal it."
"I think they mustered the votes to pass it because they sensed the urgency that we need to reform the health fund," he added.
"There's a lot of money to be saved."
Cayetano has estimated that moving to a single health plan in 2003 will save the state $65 million by 2004.
The bill was opposed by the unions primarily because it will terminate the union's state-subsidized health plans, which leaders say offer members more benefits at lower costs than the state's plan.
Cayetano said that is because the union plans can "cherry-pick" the younger, lower-risk employees, leaving the state fund to cover older, higher-risk employees and the retirees and their spouses who get free health insurance for life under current law.
State officials project a $1 billion annual health plan cost by 2013 if there are no changes.
The governor said the new law could be modified.
"In fairness to the unions, I think everyone should be open to discussions with any of them, any proposal they may have as how we could maybe change or amend the law as a compromise of sorts," he said. "I'd be open to that."
That concurs with Senate President Robert Bunda's comment Thursday that discussions could be held with the unions on the health fund issue.
"Perhaps we can work with them and come up with probably a better bill," said Bunda (D, Wahiawa-Haleiwa-North Shore). "If we water it down next year, so be it. But for now it stands."
Hawaii Revised Statutes