Women’s caucus poses tax
for long-term care

By Pat Omandam

Every state taxpayer would have to pay $10 a month for a new long-term health-care plan that legislators hope will help address the needs of Hawaii's aging population.

The proposed law, announced by female legislators and other supporters yesterday, would pay $70 a day for at least a year to those seniors who qualify.

"If every taxpayer did contribute toward the premiums, the premiums could be kept affordable," said Laura Manis, of the Coalition for Long Term Care.

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"This is a minimal program, but it will help people stay at home. It will pay a good part of the costs for the family," she said.

The bill is a follow-up to last session's passage of a long-term care financing program which creates a board of trustees to administer such a program and establishes a fund for it.

Despite a strong public lobbying effort last year for such "Care Plus" legislation -- former first lady Vicky Cayetano sought a fee of $10 a month per person -- lawmakers did not approve an actual plan to implement, only the framework for it.

House Health Chairman Dennis Arakaki (D, Kalihi Valley) said the need for a long-term care program continues to grow, and the state needs to act now. About 22 percent of Hawaii's 1.2 million population is over age 55, according to Census 2000.

"It's a pocketbook issue because it saves the state and the federal government dollars by keeping people out of nursing homes, which is the most expensive level of care," said Arakaki, who has advocated for a long-term care plan for 15 years.

"Unless we can provide some type of assistance, we kind of force people into institutional care or, even worse, no care at all," he said.

Issues supported by the Women's Legislative Caucus yesterday include two bills that would allow private and government workers to use their sick-leave days to care for family members who have serious health problems.

State Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kaneohe) said she knows how hard it is for families to deal with a serious illness, especially when a working parent has to stay home without pay to care for someone. This legislation, modeled after a new California law, would help these caregivers get paid time to offset these expenses, Thielen said.

"It's an area we haven't really dealt with at all, and I'm hoping that these pieces of legislation will not only pass, but will start the way that we can look at these kinds of catastrophic situations and be able to provide help to families as they go through it," she said.

The caucus, made up of the 21 female members of the House and Senate, also introduced a bill to allow foreign women who use American for-profit matchmaking services, commonly known as mail-order brides, to access criminal conviction and marital history records about prospective spouses who live in Hawaii.

Marilyn Lee (D, Mililani), House Majority floor leader, said the proposal mirrors a Washington law implemented last year. She said there is a support group of immigrant women in Hawaii who worry about the safety of foreign women who marry Americans.

She said this bill would give them more information about their suitor before they make a decision to marry.

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