On Politics
Richard Borreca

Lingle knows a great
idea when she sees one

The last really great idea to come out of the Hawaii Legislature was 30 years ago when the Prepaid Health Care Act of 1974 was passed.

The law requires employers to pick up at least half of the cost of health insurance for their workers. Medical insurance costs are rising monthly and the added expense is passed along to businesses in Hawaii, and then businesses pass along the cost to consumers.

Of course, businesses would like to see the plan modified, but with coverage reaching up to 90 percent of Hawaii's residents, changes are not likely. Politically it would be difficult to change and legally, the Hawaii plan is bound up in the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act and cannot be changed.

All of that does not stop some state Republicans from attacking the prepaid health plan. Sen. Sam Slom, (R, Diamond Head, Hawaii Kai), says small business is hurting because of the ever-increasing benefits mandated by the Legislature.

The state's top Republican, however, says she was able to brag to her fellow governors about Hawaii's prepaid health plan because it lowers other costs.

Nothing worries the nation's 50 governors more than the soaring costs of Medicaid, the health program funded by the states and the federal government. Medicaid is the last safety net when you lose a job, when you are thrown into the street, when you are too sick to work and then your kid needs an operation.

In 2003, the federal agreement added $10 billion to the state's Medicaid program, but now costs are up an estimated 12 percent and states are cutting back benefits, except in Hawaii.

"It is less an impact on our state than any other state," Lingle said in an interview last week.

"We are the only state that has a mandatory prepaid health care insurance program and a huge majority of our citizens have some sort of health insurance," Lingle boasted.

"The number left to be covered by Medicaid is very small," she said.

Social service advocates, including longtime social worker and activist Ah Quon McElrath, last week were noting Lingle's budget and interest in social programs.

"You know, we will take the help anywhere we can get it," McElrath said.

And Lingle last week was noting proudly, "Our state is much more progressive."

After years of listening to Democrats condemn Republicans for "balancing the budget on the backs of the poor," it is novel to hear a Republican say she is balancing her political agenda by assisting the poor.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at rborreca@starbulletin.com.

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