Legislature 2002

First lady still hopes
long-term care plan will pass

The funding part of the bill has
been removed by a Senate panel

Staff and wire reports

First lady Vicky Cayetano says she is still hopeful the Legislature will pass a state-run long-term care plan even though a Senate committee gutted the measure by removing a mandatory monthly tax to pay for the plan.

Senate Health Committee Chairman David Matsuura said Friday the plan based on a mandatory $10 monthly tax from all workers over the age of 25 won't pass this year.

After hearing Matsuura's recommendation, the Senate's Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee on Friday cut the taxing and benefits mechanism from the House-passed measure, leaving only a shell for establishing a trust fund and board of trustees to plan such a program.

The long-term care program supported by Vicky Cayetano was dubbed "Vickycare" by some critics who say it should be left to private insurance companies.

Vicky Cayetano said yesterday she was not shaken by the development, adding that the important thing was that the bill remained alive. "(The) bill was revised a little, but still (there is a) commitment to do something with long-term care, so I'm pretty pleased with the outcome," she said.

She acknowledged the $10 mandatory tax was "a big part" of the bill, but said, "a little more time to work out the details may not be a bad idea."

Matsuura (D, South Hilo) said the tax was a big concern.

"The complexity of collecting this tax was too cumbersome to the degree that we couldn't figure out how to truly write the bill this late in the game," he said.

He noted that the original proposal for a payroll deduction was abandoned by the House in favor of an income-sensitive individual income tax surcharge.

Setting up the trust account and board of trustees "will be a good first step," letting the trustees develop a state-run program and propose legislation on the funding method and benefits to next year's Legislature, Matsuura said.

The Senate measure proposes that the board of trustees not include any of the advocates for long-term care, "because that's the problem with this bill. We had too many people advocating for certain sections," Matsuura said.

"Let's get a plan that will work without any advocating positions manipulating the plan to take care of one section of the problem," said Matsuura who then emphatically denied his comment was suggesting that Vicky Cayetano should not be a trustee.

The gutted long-term care bill will go before a House-Senate conference committee, but Matsuura said he's confident there'll be no move to restore the $10 monthly tax.

One of the bill's harshest critics has been Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai-Aina Haina), who said he'll believe the long-term care tax is dead this legislative session "when the lights are turned out and the doors are locked."

"This plan has been in place now for more than a decade," he said. "It started with Family Hope and the people who want the state involved, the people who want a tax, the people who want it mandatory are still very active."

Slom said the plan called for a $103 million annual tax increase at a time of slow economic recovery and didn't provide what people thought it would provide.

"And that's the cruel hoax on the elderly. Long-term care is a very important issue and we need to address it, but we weren't providing a solution, we were providing a new tax and a new bureaucracy," he said.

The proposed program after a 10-year vesting period would pay the maximum benefit of $70 a day for long-term care services for up to 365 days.

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