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Thursday, May 15, 2014
May 15, 2014 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 5:59 PM :: 4011 Views

Did OHA Violate Sunshine Law with Secret Meeting(s) in DC?

It's Time! Judge Elwin Ahu Launches Lt. Gov. Campaign

Hawaii’s Obamacare exchange most costly in nation

Hawaii welfare cheat gets 57 months in federal prison

DBEDT: Building Permits Up 20.6%

Gallup: Hawaii, Texas Best States for Minorities

Honolulu's rail project faces 'risk factors' that could affect schedule and budget

PBN: The City and County of Honolulu will have to secure short-term debt to improve the project’s cash flow. And of “critical importance” will be HART’s ability to manage traffic while the rail is under construction.

The project also faces four risk factors that the agency says it is taking steps to mitigate. They are:

  • Higher costs for materials, labor and equipment as a result of ramped-up construction, which will cause greater competition for resources in what the agency calls a “confined, remote marketplace.”
  • Interest rate increases due to marketplace dynamics, world events and federal policies.
  • Actual vs. planned General Excise Tax surcharge revenue growth.
  • Timely availability of construction sites for contractors to avoid delays.

SA: HART Showboating Costs $57M in Rail change orders

Don't forget this: Finmeccanica CEO Ousted as Effort to Dump Honolulu Rail Contractor Ansaldo Collapses

And This: $1.56B budget estimated for rail: HART Has no Idea How Much to Borrow

read ... Honolulu's rail project faces 'risk factors'

The Uproar at OHA's Door

HMSA: Exempt Small Business from Hawaii Health Connector

HMSA Gold: Since 1974, Hawaii law has mandated that businesses provide health care insurance to their employees who work more than 20 hours a week. This mandate is called the Hawaii Prepaid Healthcare Act, and it's been one of our state's great public policy success stories.

In states that don't have an equivalent of the Hawaii Prepaid Healthcare Act, the ACA provides needed security for workers. It's the vehicle through which workers gain access to health insurance. But by applying that federal exchange mandate to Hawaii, which already requires such coverage, we're needlessly building and maintaining an expensive system that will simply enroll employees into the same coverage they already have. It's a waste of precious funds.

Those funds are going to come from one or more of three places: federal taxes, state taxes, or fees assessed on insurance providers, such as HMSA. And any fees assessed on HMSA, or any other health plan, will be passed along to members and participating businesses. So who pays for an unnecessary online infrastructure? You do.

I believe the state administration should ask the federal government for a limited waiver from the small business market exchange requirement of the ACA. Yes, I know that the ACA allows for waiver applications in 2017. And some in our state believe there's no way we can get a waiver application considered now.

In that regard, the state Legislature's recent action to form a task force to seek a waiver in 2017 was a good move. But I believe we should still try for a limited waiver this year.

Let me be clear: There's no need in Hawaii for the small business exchange, or so-called SHOP. But the Hawaii Health Connector also serves the individual market. Because our uninsured population is relatively small, thanks to the Hawaii Prepaid Healthcare Act, a scaled-back (and thus less costly) Hawaii Health Connector could still serve that market. It's even possible that we could come up with an innovative way to have individuals go directly to participating health plans.

read ... HMSA Gold

Legislators: Dismantling Health Connector does more harm than good

SA: Mr. Gold calls for the removal of the Connector's Small Business Options Program (SHOP) as an unnecessary middle man and encourages small businesses to enroll directly with HMSA.

But this "direct enrollment" solution virtually eliminates competition in the marketplace by denying Hawaii businesses and residents the opportunities to "shop and compare" and choose a health plan that's right for them, leaving only the "big boys" to dictate that choice.

Having a robust SHOP is an essential element to the Connector's sustainability and allows employees and employers to compare plans to see what works best for them.

Moreover, the assertion that these waivers exist and that the Legislature did not pursue them is simply not true. On Feb. 4, we wrote to our congressional delegation asking for the very same waiver that Mr. Gold alluded to, and we were told, in no uncertain terms, that we would not be able to secure itm.

We also drafted a House resolution asking for a waiver and were told again that we would not be able to get permission.

Through the legislative process, we learned that the only way we could secure a federal waiver was through the innovation waiver process, which is why we passed House Bill 2581 that will set up a task force to develop a plan to seek the waiver.

Mr. Gold also stated that the Legislature did not ask the right questions regarding the Health Connector during our deliberation on the bills.

During this past legislative session, all of the information that we received from the Connector reflected the views of its board of directors, which included Jennifer Diesman, an HMSA vice president.

Moreover, in all of the briefings, never did HMSA's representative question the route or the line of questioning being asked.

It seems strange that at the same time HMSA is asking for a rate increase of nearly 13 percent; at the same time that the bill removing HMSA from the board is going to the governor for his signature, that HMSA now suddenly questions the need for a health exchange.

These new developments push us to the next part of health care reform that needs to be taken up by elected officials -- taking a closer look at what's really driving the costs of health care here in Hawaii.

There are some who would have us do nothing but hand the problem off to Washington, D.C., or to big insurance corporations. If we do, we run the risk of losing all the gains we've made under our Prepaid Health Care Act. And that has always been our main concern: the protection of Hawaii's Prepaid Health Care Act.

read ... Belatti, McKelvey, Baker

Same-Day Voter Registration Awaits Veto Decision

WaPo: Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) is likely to sign legislation allowing eligible citizens to register and vote on Election Day after the legislature passed the measure by a wide margin.

Anyone eligible to cast a ballot would be able to register on Election Day at early voting sites beginning in 2016, or at regular polling places starting in 2018. Scott Nago, the state’s chief elections officer, supported the bill in written testimony before the legislature.

Abercrombie has not said whether he will sign the bill, but Democrats expect him to do so.

read ... Hawaii likely to allow same-day voter registration

Principals' Survey critical of new teacher evaluations

HNN: An independently done survey of Hawaii's public school principals criticizes the Department of Education's new teacher evaluations. Seventy-five percent of the 160 principals who filled out the survey said the Educator Effectiveness System has had a negative impact on their schools.

"We're hearing things like it takes three hours at the minimum to do an evaluation for one teacher. If you have a hundred teachers at your high school, that's a lot of hours," retired Kaiser High School principal John Sosa said.

Sosa and retired Moanalua High School principal Darrel Galera created the survey

It shows 94 percent of responding principals believe that implementing the teacher evaluation system has hurt faculty and staff morale, while 78 percent said it's taken time away from preparing students for the new national test....

But DOE Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe said the new teacher evaluations will be adjusted over time, and the survey doesn't reflect that.

"The way things have been characterized, it really doesn't validate the hard work that people have done to do the work so we can look at the data and make the improvements," he said.

Over 65 percent of the principals who responded also said they fear the DOE will retaliate if they complain.

"There's been threats. There's been compliance. There's been, 'You have to meet these deadlines or else,'" Galera said.

To view the survey results and comments click here ->

SA: They cite the DOE's "top-down" handling of schools and low morale due to reforms

read ... Survey critical of new teacher evaluations

Months Later Principal Still Not Informed of Charges

SA: Former Kaiser High School Principal John Sosa, who was abruptly placed on leave last fall as the Department of Education conducted an internal investigation, says he still hasn't been told of the accusations against him.

"I still am under investigation. I don't know what it is that I supposedly did that was so egregious that they had to remove me from my position," Sosa, 71, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. "I won't know until the DOE contacts me."

Sosa retired in December, three months after the DOE launched its investigation, ending a 44-year career with the department....

Sosa, who led the Hawaii Kai school for more than five years, last year was named Principal of the Year by the Hawaii Association of Secondary School Administrators. The organization credited his efforts with introducing the prestigious International Baccalaureate program at Kaiser and boosting the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses.

The school's reading and math scores also improved under his leadership along with its on-time graduation and college-going rates.

A spokeswoman for the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the union representing public school principals and vice principals, said the union no longer represents Sosa because he's retired.

read ... Ex-principal in dark on investigation

Hawaii Among Lowest Scoring K-12 Students

HuffPo: A new map compiled by research engine FindTheBest shows that when it comes to American students' standardized test scores, the North clearly reigns over the South. The students with the best scores hailed from states that include New Hampshire, Minnesota and Massachusetts. The worst scores came out of Arkansas and Mississippi.

To create the map, researchers looked at each state's scores for the SAT, ACT, AP and National Assessment of Educational Progress tests. They sourced this information from each state's department of education.

read ... Hawaii Scores 3.0

DHS Botches Passive Renewal -- Creates Excuse to keep Ghost Patients on Rolls

SA: The state Department of Human Services, which administers the Medicaid health insurance program for low-income residents, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last week that families with children would be "passively renewed," or automatically re-enrolled in Quest, even if they didn't return the renewal forms.

But after the newspaper published a story Sunday, the DHS said it had provided incorrect information regarding who was required to respond to renewal notices. Roughly 200,000 Quest members -- including families with children -- must return the forms beginning in April or they will lose health insurance, DHS said.

"To clarify, all Quest households, including those with children, must return their completed (eligibility renewal) forms or they will lose Quest coverage," DHS spokeswoman Kayla Rosenfeld wrote in an email Tuesday....

The parents of 6-year-old Makayla Jefferson were livid after discovering last week during a visit to the doctor that she had been cut from the Quest health insurance program.

Her father, Michael, said the Ewa Beach family went home and found one previously overlooked notice -- a cancellation letter -- from Quest, the state's version of Medicaid, informing them that Makayla was being dropped from the program because they didn't return an eligibility renewal form....

The mailing of renewal notices in Hawaii was prompted by the Affordable Care Act, which requires Medicaid programs in all states to collect additional information on income and tax status, the DHS said. (Which means extraordinary measure must be taken to dodge this bullet and here they come....) 

Baker blasted the DHS for its handling of the renewals. "This seems to me to be something else they're trying to use as a way to blame some other issue on the Affordable Care Act and Health Connector," she said. "They come up with all these lame excuses. Now they're coming back and throwing kids off the program. This is something they've obviously been calculating for a while. I cannot trust them any longer to tell the truth. ... It's really very disturbing."

Baker said the Legislature must rein in the DHS to ensure transparency in the Medicaid program. "They don't want to take any ownership for anything that they do and that's the problem," she said. "It's frustrating."

Until now, Quest members were automatically renewed each year, leaving the possibility that the state was paying for health insurance for people who no longer lived in Hawaii, were no longer qualified based on income, or had obtained insurance from another source.  (And those ghost patients line HMSA pocket to the tune of $1500 each per year.)

The state has used "passive renewal" since 2004 because officials wanted "to eliminate barriers to continued coverage and to promote access to medical coverage for families with children line the pockets of insurance companies" Rosenfeld said."However, it became apparent that the passive renewal policy resulted in a number of people being enrolled who are not eligible."

Reality: DHS: Thousands of ghost names on Hawaii Medicare, Medicaid Rolls

read ... Isle families with kids must renew with Quest

Health-Care Nominee Promises to Review State Obamacare Exchanges

WSJ: The nominee for the government's top health-care job told a Senate panel Wednesday the federal health agency should use the full extent of the law to recover funds deemed misspent on state insurance exchanges.

In a mostly friendly confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Sylvia Mathews Burwell faced questions from Republicans who contend hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted building problem-plagued state insurance websites under the Affordable Care Act....

A March Congressional Research Service report said those states—mostly Democratic-led—received more than $1 billion from the federal government to build them.

Ms. Burwell, who President Barack Obama nominated to succeed Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services secretary, told Mr. Hatch she would seek to understand what went wrong with the exchanges and believed the agency should attempt to recover any funds misspent by contractors.

read ... State-Run  Exchanges

Hawaii senators inspect safety at state hospital

KITV: State senators dissected how the hospital assigns staff in a hearing at the Legislature Wednesday.

Former hospital worker Emelinda Yarte says she was thrown against a wall when she tried to help colleagues who were attacked by a patient.  She says the incident occurred in a part of the hospital that was understaffed at the time. She says a security camera in the area was broken.

A hospital employee who schedules workers says certain parts of the hospital are difficult to staff.  Clerk Debbie Ono says workers in those units often call in sick, and other workers fill in, logging a lot of overtime.

SA: State hospital workers abuse sick leave, committee is told 

KHON: Lawmakers probe allegations of overtime abuse, staffing shortage at Hawaii State Hospital

read ... State Hospital

Judge Approves Telescope, Next Stop Supreme Court

HTH: Hilo Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura issued the final judgment in the Thirty Meter Telescope case May 5.

The release of the final judgment, where Nakamura ruled in favor of the Thirty Meter Telescope project, means the six petitioners arguing the state erred when issuing a conservation district land use permit for construction of what is poised to be one of the world’s largest telescopes atop Mauna Kea will have 30 days to file a notice or intent to appeal to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Meanwhile the TMT Corp.’s sublease for the project awaits approval by the Board of Land and Natural Resources.

Sandra Dawson, TMT spokeswoman, previously said the state land board will review the sublease later this month or in early June.

read ... Shakedown

UH and UHPA Reach Settlement of the HLRB Prohibited Practice Charge

UHPA: This resolves disputes over the exclusivity of UHPA's representation rights, and specifically establishes a process to address the policy issues related to the 5-year faculty evaluations, campus smoking policies, and it also sets the framework for consultation with UHPA and the administration, while including participation of the Faculty Senates in formulating spheres of influence in academic matters.

Download the memorandum signed by UH President David Lassner, UH Board of Regents Chair John Holzman, and UHPA Executive Director J. N. Musto.

read ... Not Tobacco Free

Hawaii Co Ethics: Election Official OK to Run for Office

HTH: Deputy County Clerk Maile David found herself the topic of discussion on both sides of the hallway Wednesday, as the Ethics Board finalized an advisory opinion allowing her to keep her job while running for election, and the County Council mulled cutting her salary in half because her duties are curtailed.

David is running for the sprawling South Kona/Ka‘u District 6 of the County Council, a wide-open seat vacated by term-limited Councilwoman Brenda Ford. David ran unsuccessfully for council in 2010 and 2012 before she became deputy clerk.

Also running are resource conservation consultant Richard Eugene Abbett and former Hawaii Tribune-Herald Publisher Jim Wilson. Fred Fogel has pulled papers but not yet filed for the district. He has done the same for a state House seat.

The Ethics Board voted to send David an informal advisory opinion finding no ethics violation as long as certain “shields” are kept in place to protect the integrity of the election as promised by County Clerk Stewart Maeda. Those include keeping her away from the Division of Elections, one of the divisions under the Clerk’s Office. David also is no longer clerking the County Council sessions at the West Hawaii Civic Center as a way to keep her less in the public eye.

The Ethics Board also wants David to go to the state Office of Elections to get assurances the integrity of the election won’t be compromised by her continuing to work as deputy clerk. That language will be clarified in the final written opinion.

read ... Counting her own votes



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