Molokai has some of the most treacherous seas in the world, so when a Cessna Grand Caravan owned by Makana Kai crashed one mile off of Kalaupapa, Molokai, at 3:27 p.m. on Wednesday on its way from Molokai to Oahu, eight passengers and pilot were forced to try to escape the wreckage and brave large surf and dangerous conditions until help arrived.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 8 people were rescued, but Loretta Fuddy, 65, who is the director of the state Department of Health, did not survive.
Deputy Health director Keith Yamamoto was rescued.
Both were there on official duties as part of an annual visit to the remote North side community where a few remaining patients with Hansen's Disease or leprosy live.
Today, Kalaupapa is a national park managed by the state Department of Health where a few patients remain. Patients were first exiled and isolated there in 1866.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the Coast Guard said that after the crash was reported, the Coast Guard launched two MH-65 Dolphin helicopter aircrews and one HC-130 Hercules airplane crew from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point on Oahu.
Coast Guard Cutters Ahi and Galveston Island, home-ported in Honolulu, and two 45-foot Response-Boat Medium crews from Station Maui were also dispatched to the scene.
Rescue swimmers from the Dolphin helicopters were deployed, rescuing three passengers in the water. They were transported by Dolphin helicopter crews to Honolulu for emergency medical services.
Maui Fire Rescue rescued additional passengers.
Two people were transported by a Makani Kai company plane to Honolulu and the rest of the passengers remained on Molokai.
Sen, J. Kalani English, who represents the island of Molokai, said he was deeply saddened to hear of the plane crash off the coast of Kalaupapa this evening and extended his most heartfelt sympathy and concerns to those who were aboard the Makani Kai aircraft.
“On behalf of the State of Hawaii, I offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends of the individual who lost their life today.”
"As we continue to monitor the situation, our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of those who were on board, and with the people of Molokai.”
English said he is grateful for those who bravely responded to the crash and for their continued commitment to protecting Hawaii and those who visit our state.
"The safety of our traveling public is highly important to us," English said. "For those traveling to and from Molokai I want to reassure you that services to Kalaupapa will continue.”
Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said Fuddy embodied the very sprit and ethos of public service, dedicating her life to the health and wellbeing of all of Hawaii’s people.
“Appointed to Director of the Department of Health in 2011, Loretta brought with her over 35 years of experience in health and human services. Actively involved in improving health care options both locally and nationally, her commitment to public health was undisputed,” Kim said. “Under her leadership, she fostered a transparent and collaborative environment, engaging with lawmakers, community members, health care providers, and social service organizations.“
Fuddy, who served as acting director since January 2011 until becoming director in March 2011, was before that the Chief of the Family Health Services Division for the department. She holds degrees in sociology, social work, and public health from the University of Hawai'i and Johns Hopkins University.
The governor's office, when appointing her, said Fuddy was a recognized leader in the public health field having served as Chair of the Hawai'i Public Health Association, President of the Association of State & Territorial Public Health Association, Treasurer and Secretary of the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs. She is a recipient of a various awards including the Hawaii Outstanding Advocate for Children and Youth, and the DOH Sustained Superior and Exemplary Performance Award. Raised in Kaimuki, she is a graduate of the Sacred Hearts Academy.
KAHULUI – Part-time students at the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College will be able to take advantage of low-cost, quality childcare for the Spring 2014 semester, thanks to a new partnership between the College and Imua Family Services. The goal is to help students with families maintain class attendance and complete their courses.
“If you’re a single parent, or the household is working multiple jobs to make ends meet while trying to get an education, then childcare can become the greatest obstacle to reaching those goals,” says, Dean Wong, Imua Family Services Executive Director.
Imua & Maui College Childcare, (IMCC) is a “Demonstration Project” set to begin operation in January 2014 for part-time students enrolled in the Spring semester. The project was developed with the assistance of the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College (UHMC) CareerLink staff and Early Childhood Education faculty, community partners People Attentive to Children (PATCH), Maui County Early Childhood Resource Coordinators Office, Department of Human Services (DHS) Childcare Assistance Program and Imua Family Services (professionals in child development and therapeutic services). Funding was provided by the University of Hawaiʻi Community College system, and currently this opportunity is for the Spring 2014 semester only.
The center will run Monday through Thursday to accommodate students enrolled in morning and afternoon classes. The new program will serve 10-30 part-time UHMC students, and parents will pay a nominal fee of $10/class, per child, per month. Participants will also be required to volunteer one hour every two weeks to help with cleaning and maintaining the Imua childcare facility. Data from PATCH estimates that the average cost of Hawaiʻi’s monthly childcare is $640/child.
“Quality childcare is often the burden that makes it difficult for some Maui students to successfully complete their education,” said Juli Patao, UHMC CareerLink Director. “We hope that this demonstration project will show that providing childcare can have a positive impact on both retention and completion of degrees or certificates.”
For more information please visit http://maui.hawaii.edu/careerlink/home/ or call CareerLink at UH Maui College at 984-3318. Interested students must complete an online survey.
BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN - HONOLULU — Hawaii’s health exchange violates the National Voter Registration Act, says the state’s League of Women Voters.
The voter act requires all states to provide residents access to voter registration when applying for a driver’s license, welfare, unemployment benefits and a host of public programs.
But the Hawaii Health Connector, established by the Legislature as a nonprofit to run the Obamacare exchange and funded with $200 million in federal money, fails to provide information about voting on its website or in other materials.
The office of the state attorney general said the health connector is not required to provide voter information on its website because it is an independent, nonprofit agency. The attorney general's office said had issued an informal opinion on the matter to the Office of Elections and Department of Human Services, but it would remain a privileged document unless either the Office of Elections or DHS released it.
The League of Women Voters argues the Hawaii Health Connector is performing government services and is funded with federal money. The connector should integrate widely available voter registration links and other resources into the website, the league says. The league says the state attorney general, who is charged with representing the governor and state agencies, appears to be representing the health connector at taxpayers’ expense.
“It is wrong to suggest that the Hawaii Health Connector is not covered by the National Voter Rights Act because it is a nonprofit agency,” said State League President Piilani Kaopuiki. “The Hawaii Health Connector is performing state services that are required by the Affordable Care Act, and there is strong legal precedent that the actions of such an entity are attributable to the state.”
The attorney general said in response: "The Department of the Attorney General does not represent the Health Connector. Our client in this matter is the Elections Commission. Pursuant to HRS section 28-4, the Department of the Attorney General is required to "give advice and counsel to the heads of departments, district judges, and other public officers, in all matters connected with their public duties, and otherwise aid and assist them in every way requisite to enable them to perform their duties faithfully."
The League of Women Voters maintains providing access to voter registration is not only a legal obligation but also essential for attacking the problem of low voter turnout.
Some 270,000 Hawaii residents eligible to vote are still unregistered. The state consistently ranks at the bottom regarding voter turnout among the states.
“The League of Women Voters refuses to remain silent on this serious problem. We believe a citizen’s right to vote is a fundamental right,” said Kaopuiki. “In Hawaii the League has worked for more than 50 years to encourage voting. It is our core mission, and we urge immediate action to protect voting rights and democracy in Hawaii.”
Other states are already committed to offering people the opportunity to register to vote through their state health exchanges, just as they do through departments of motor vehicles and other agencies, and Hawaii should follow suit, Kaopuiki said.
The league is urging Attorney General David Louie to reverse his position — the Hawaii Health Connector is not a state agency and its officers and employees are not state employees, so the nonprofit does not have to comply with federal law.
The league has also asked State’s Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago to designate the state’s Health Benefit Exchange as a voter registration agency under the National Voter Registration Act and work with the connector to ensure voter registration opportunities are granted to all who seek health benefits.
Rex Quidilla, spokesperson for the Office of Elections, said the connector is nonprofit and, therefore, the elections office cannot force its compliance. The Office of Elections has contacted connector staff and board members to encourage them to place links on the site, Quidilla said.
Technical problems with the website are part of the reason behind the reluctance, Quidilla said.
The Hawaii Health Connector launched Oct. 1, but users were unable to connect to state social service and health-care insurance provider websites. The site relaunched Oct. 15, but users still complained about technical problems, similar to the problems with healthcare.gov.
The Hawaii Health Connector’s board addressed the voter registration issue in September. Meeting minutes say:
“Update on National Voter Registration Act Compliance: Executive Director (Coral) Andrews reported that the League of Women Voters raised the question whether or not the Connector was subject to a Federal requirement to conduct voter registration. The Attorney General’s determined that the Connector was not a state agency responsible for conducting voter registration activities pursuant to the National Voting Rights Act.”
The connector’s public relations firm provided a copy of the September minutes but has yet to offer additional comment.
A member of the League of Women Voters told HawaiiReporter.com the nonprofit, nonpartisan voter advocacy group has no plans to back down on its requests.
Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that the attorney general did not give its informal opinion to Hawaii Reporter because of attorney client privilege related to its representation of the Office of Elections and Health Connector, but it should have said the Office of Elections and Department of Human Services.
HONOLULU - A class-action lawsuit was filed today against the state of Hawai‘i for violating federal law by failing to pay foster parents enough to adequately care for the foster children in their homes. Long-time foster parent Raynette Nalani Ah Chong filed the suit on behalf of all foster parents in the state who have been short-changed because the state has failed to increase the payments since 1990. The federal Child Welfare Act requires that reimbursements cover the expenses of children in foster care, but the $529 per month payment — set by the state more than 20 years ago — does not come close. Had the payment been adjusted for inflation, it would be over $950.
The interests of the roughly 1000 foster parents in Hawai‘i are being represented by the non-profit Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, local law firm Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing, and global law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.
Requests to raise the inadequate foster care payments have been under consideration by the Hawai‘i Legislature since 2009. The Hawai‘i Department of Human Services (DHS) — the state agency responsible for the foster care program — has repeatedly opposed an increase, claiming that it would cost too much. “It costs too much to not increase the payment,” says Hawai‘i Appleseed Executive Director Victor Geminiani. “Foster children are suffering because the state is not providing sufficient support. The consequences can last a lifetime in terms of the children’s broken lives and the expensive state services required to support them down the road.”
‘THEIR NEEDS GET PUSHED ASIDE’
Ms. Ah Chong and her family have cared for more than 100 foster children during the nearly 20 years they have been involved in the program. To try to make ends meet, she always clips coupons, visiting as many as four different grocery stores in one day in an effort to afford the quality meals the children need to thrive. But it is impossible to adequately provide for the children using only the $529 provided by the state. “Foster children are one of the most vulnerable groups out there, and it has been terribly frustrating to see their needs get pushed aside year after year,” said Ms. Ah Chong. “Most foster parents truly care about the children that come to their homes, and it is painful to have so few resources to help them.”
The DHS expects foster parents to cover, at a minimum, the following expenses on about $17 per day:
• Shelter and utilities
• Use of household furnishings and supplies
• Expenses involved in household operations
• Personal essentials, such as but not limited to toothpaste, soap, comb, haircuts, sanitary supplies, replacement of milk bottles and nipples, disposable diapers
• Reading and educational supplies, including school supplies
• Recreation and community activities for the children, such as but not limited to parties, picnics, church money, movies, and excursions
• Transportation expenses for the foster parent to shop for the foster child or deliver the child to school events, church or other recreational activities;
• Non-prescribed medication such as aspirin and cough syrup or first-aid materials such as bandages
• Babysitting expense incurred by foster parents for their own recreational purposes
• Other requirements for infant care, including such “basic sub-items” as vitamins generally recommended by doctors for children up to five years of age.
A study published six years ago, Hitting the M.A.R.C.: Establishing Foster Care Minimum Adequate Rates for Children, found that as long ago as 2007, Hawai‘i’s board reimbursement rate for teenagers was 49% below what would be required to adequately cover “the real costs of providing care for children.” Even though Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the country, it is one of the stingiest in terms of taking care of foster children. For example, Kentucky, ranked the 3rd least expensive place to live, provided foster families over $200 more a month than Hawaii, according to a 2012 report by the Child Trends Organization. Tennessee, which ranks as the 2ndleast expensive place to live, provides foster families with almost $300 more a month.
STATE HAS OBLIGATION TO HELP
The state must significantly increase the payments to comply with the law. “DHS seems to think it has a choice about whether to increase the payments,” said attorney Paul Alston. “It doesn’t. The payment hasn’t been adjusted for nearly a quarter century. An increase is long overdue.”
Legal precedent favors the foster parents. Just two years ago, foster parents in California won a major victory in federal court on the same issue, forcing the state of California to substantially increase its reimbursement rates. That case, California State Foster Parent Association v. Wagner, was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which found for the foster parents. The law firm that advocated for those parents, Morrison Foerster, will serve as co-counsel for Hawaii’s foster parents.
“It was disheartening to hear that this problem exists in Hawai‘i,” said attorney A.C. Johnston. “It costs more to kennel a dog than DHS provides to care for foster children. These children deserve better.”
For a copy of the complaint and more information about the lawsuit and the issue of foster care support payments, go to http://www.hiappleseed.org/foster-care-payments.
HONOLULU – The Department of Public Safety is pleased to announce the selection of Ruth Coller Forbes as warden of Kulani Correctional Facility, effective Dec. 1, 2013.
“Ruth has a broad knowledge of corrections and management. She is a valuable asset to the department and is committed to carrying out our mission,” said Public Safety Director Ted Sakai. “I am confident Kulani will benefit from her leadership and years of experience.”
Ruth has been with the Department of Public Safety since June 1995. She worked as an Adult Corrections Officer at the Women’s Community Correctional Center until 1998. From 1998 to 2000 she served as a Human Services Professional at the Hawaii Intake Service Center. From 2000 to 2006 she worked at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center (HCCC) as a Human Services Professional. In January 2006 she rose to the rank of Corrections Supervisor at HCCC.
As a Corrections Supervisor, she is responsible for inmate programming, classification and services at HCCC. Ruth is a key member of a team that implemented many innovative programs such as E Hoopili Hou (Supporting Keiki of Incarcerated Parents), Job Readiness, and Mentoring. She is also an active member of the Going Home Consortium, a group of public and private agencies that develop and implement programs in the community for offenders on the Big Island.
Ruth has a B.A. in sociology from the College of St. Benedict, Minnesota, and a masters in Criminal Justice Administration from Chaminade University.
As warden, Ruth will be instrumental in the re-opening of Kulani which is scheduled for July 1, 2014.
“Ruth will be jumping right in to her role as Warden,” said Deputy Director for Corrections Max Otani. “The priority in the next 6 months, as we prepare for the official re-opening of Kulani, will be to hire all the staff, establish and test operational policies and procedures, and organize the purchase of equipment and supplies.”
The facility will also be getting new kitchen equipment and undergo other minor repairs. The electrical upgrades suggested in the Environmental Assessment are currently underway.
Kulani will staff 96 full-time positions and will accommodate approximately 200 low-risk inmates.
The reactivation of Kulani will help with the Abercrombie Administration’s goal to bring out-of-state prisoners back to Hawaii. This goal is consistent with Hawaii’s participation in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative which began over a year ago. The JRI strategy is a “data-driven” plan to reduce spending on corrections, reinvest savings generated in strategies that would reverse crime trends and eventually bring inmates housed in Arizona back to Hawaii.
Turkeys may be the best thing on the Thanksgiving table, but they aren’t the smartest bird in the tree.
A new report from Truth in Accounting’s State Data Lab names Hawaii one of 13 “Turkey States” because the state spent more money than it received and racked up more debt for future taxpayers.
But that’s nothing new. Every year since 2008, Hawaii has spent more than it takes in, according to Sheila Weinberg, founder and CEO of Truth in Accounting. (See Hawaii ‘Net Revenue’ 2005-2012).
“State budgeting practices lack truthfulness, timeliness and transparency, allowing elected officials to claim they ‘balance’ the budget, while actually over-spending yearly income,” Weinber said.
“In addition to yearly spending deficits, Hawaii’s pension and retirement health obligations have grown from $12.8 billion in 2009 to $20.45 billion in 2012. Future Hawaii taxpayers may inherit a large ‘credit card’ balance, even though they did not enjoy today’s services on the tab.”
Hawaii joins New Jersey, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, California and Delaware on the turkey list.
Kalbert Young, director of finance at the Hawaii Depaprtment of Budget and Finance, said it is all how you look at the numbers.
In fiscal year 2012, Hawaii’s general fund revenue was $5.6 billion compared to actual expenditures of $5.51 billion, with a positive ending balance of 275 million dollars, Young said.
However, the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, said total revenue was $8.25 billion verses the total expenses of $8.78 billion, for a negative balance of $529.9 million, Young said.
“The biggest difference is going to be inclusion of accrual items that are not present on a pure cash basis, such as what the budget and fiscal execution of the budget is based on,” Young said. “The big one is the accrual of unfunded liabilities, or the Annual Required Payments towards (other post-employment benefits). Also, Statement of Net Assets also includes such typical business items as depreciation and accrued payroll.”
By Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog
He asked and asked and asked again, but never got the answers he wanted.
Nebraska Republican U.S. Rep. Lee Terry’s repeated attempts to wrangle Obamacare information out of the president’s point person on health care went nowhere Wednesday.
Time and again Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, told Terry the data he wanted — such as how many Americans have tried to enroll on the administration’s troubled website — was “unreliable.”
“It is not reliable data according to the insurance companies who are eager to have customers,” said Sebelius during a sometimes testy hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Terry: The contractors say they do have those numbers but can’t tell us that because of a contract with HHS saying they’re gagged on that information.
Sebelius: I would suggest the numbers are not reliable.
Terry: Will you on the record right now authorize them to give us those numbers and let us determine whether those are reliable?
Sebelius: No sir.
At the start of the hearing, Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said, “The news seems to get worse by the day.”
Sebelius promised that a “vast majority” of consumers will be able to use the website by the end of November.
“I am as frustrated and angry as anyone with the flawed launch of HealthCare.gov,” she said. “So let me say directly to these Americans: You deserve better. I apologize. I’m accountable to you for fixing these problems.”
Contact Joe Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org
REPORT FROM THE HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES - HONOLULU – Hawaii ranks best in the nation according to The Commonwealth Fund Scorecard on State Health System Performance for Low-Income Populations, 2013, a national scorecard that analyzed 30 indicators within four dimensions. Hawaii ranks in the top quartile for three of four system dimensions – Access to Affordability, Potentially Avoidable Hospital Use, and Healthy Lives. Hawaii ranks in the second quartile for the fourth indicator, Prevention and Treatment. There are currently 292,000 individuals enrolled in Hawaii Med-QUEST programs, which are administered through the Department of Human Services (DHS).
“This 2013 Commonwealth Fund scorecard demonstrates that Hawaii is on the right track to improving access to affordable health care, and the state Med-QUEST Division is leading the way,” said Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who has made healthcare transformation a top priority of his administration. “Our healthcare system supports the optimum health of all state residents by providing a seamless, integrated and comprehensive healthcare system. This approach consistently demonstrates high-quality care, and a commitment to cost-effectiveness. It also enhances the patient experience and engages patients in their own healthcare decisions.”
For low-income populations whose standard of living is 200 percent of the federal poverty level, Hawaii reported the second lowest percentage of uninsured adults, the second lowest percentage of uninsured children, and the lowest percentage of adults who went without health care in the past year due to cost. Hawaii also is ranked first for the lowest rate of potentially avoidable hospital use and second for the lowest rate of potentially avoidable emergency department visits for low-income Medicare beneficiaries, and first for the lowest rate of poor health related quality of life for low-income adults 18-64 years old.
“It’s the prevention component that makes the difference,” said DHS Director, Patricia McManaman. “When vulnerable individuals have access to affordable and reliable medical services, they are more likely to visit their doctor on a regular basis. The Commonwealth Fund scorecard reflects the commitment of our healthcare providers to our community.”
While Hawaii is ranked the top state, there is room for improvement. Hawaii ranked below average on four indicators – older adult preventive care, surgical care to prevent complications, hospital 30-day mortality, and hospital discharge instructions for home recovery. Because the report is generally based on 2010 and 2011 data, these areas may have since improved. No states ranked in the top quartile or even top half of the range for all 30 indicators.
To improve the overall health and economic well-being of low-income populations, states must invest in the health of their most vulnerable populations. Healthier adults are less expensive for taxpayers, and have greater workforce productivity. Healthier children are more likely to succeed in school and participate in the future workforce. A healthy population is thus instrumental in maintaining strong local and state economies, as well as the nation’s economic health and well-being.
To read the complete 2013 Commonwealth Fund Scorecard visit http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Publications/Fund-Reports/2013/Sep/Low-Income-Scorecard.aspx
BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN - HONOLULU — Doctors already contending with reams of paperwork brought on by the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and its 30,000 new pages of rules and regulations say a 2008 federal law set to go into effect next year will compound their misery.
Under existing classifications through what’s known as ICD-9, patients in the United States with injury, illness or disease have their conditions classified into 18,000 medical codes.
A new coding system approved by President George W. Bush in 2008 called ICD-10 has 140,000 such codes, a 678 percent increase in what doctors must document, and will go into effect next October.
Doctors said the system has a code for just about everything.
“If a duck bites your nose, there is a code for that,” said Dr. Linda J. Rasmussen, an orthopedic surgeon on Oahu.
Between new requirements under the ACA and the coming ICD-10 requirements, Rasmussen said, “It is enough to pull your hair out.”
“The paperwork is crazy. Everything takes so much longer,” she said.
If it isn’t strange enough to have a code for a duck induced injury, there’s a code if patients have a bean stuck in their nose, walk into a lamppost, are hit by lightning not just once, but twice, collide with a dolphin or suffer burns because their water skis are on fire.
There’s also a code for civilians struck by a drone or involved in an accident involving spacecraft.
When the Bush administration adopted ICD-10, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt called it a “giant step forward toward developing a health care system that focuses on quality and affordability through the implementation of health information technology,” and maintained the government will be able to more closely track reporting, compensation and health trends through a nationwide electronic health information system.
The system was supposed to be in place by 2011, but the Bush administration delayed implementation until October 2013, and then the Obama administration postponed the transition until October 2014.
Benjamin Domenech, a senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, said most of the increased number of codes is due not to new diseases or clinically necessary information, but to requiring excessive and often “ridiculous” detail.
The codes go into such specifics that those injured while water skiing barefoot, attacked by a vacuum or an ultimate Frisbee, wounded while weeding the yard or striking a pose during yoga class have their own designations.
Not to be left out are patients bitten by an alligator, bull, cat, moray eel or turtle; butted by a bull or goat; injured by a camel or giraffe or in a human stampede; attacked by a chicken, duck, goose, macaw, parrot or turkey; scratched by a cat or hit by a “flying” horse.
George Alex, senior director of the ICD-10 initiative for consulting firm Advisory Board Company, there are 72 new codes related to birds and 312 codes related to animals. One angioplasty code under ICD-9 will become 854 different codes highlighting body parts, methods and instrumentation, Alex said.
Experts say the implementation and training of the new codes will be expensive.
Nachimson Advisors estimates the change will cost the average small practice about $83,000, a medium sized practice (10 physicians) some $285,195 and a larger practice (about 100 physicians) as much as $2.7 million. Hospitals may have to invest between $2 million and $5 million, and large health care organizations could spend as much as $20 million.
A 2012 report published by the Galen Institute said ICD-10 will also be costly by taking away time between doctors and their patients.
“Financially ICD-10 implementation will transfer limited health care money away from sick patients to administrators, businessmen, and IT consultants. In addition to carrying a hefty price tag, ICD-10 implementation will likely have a substantial opportunity cost on physicians trying to provide the best care for their patients as well,” wrote authors Tom Colburn and Jason Fodeman.
America’s Health Insurance Plans predicts the cost will be as much as $3 billion for the health insurance industry.
“It is very likely that these costs will be passed along to patients in the form of higher prices or insurance premiums,” Colburn and Fodeman wrote.
Colburn, a U.S. senator from Oklahoma and medical doctor, has introduced legislation known as the Cutting Costly Codes Act of 2013, along with co-sponsors John Barrasso, R-Wy., Rand Paul, R-Ky. and John Boozman, R-Ark.
The legislation is also pending in the U.S. House after being introduced in April by Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas. It would delay the replacement of ICD-9 as impacts of new codes are studied.
The American Medical Association is among the groups that have voiced strong support.
One of the lead contractors responsible for developing the government's troubled healthcare website said on Thursday his company warned the Obama administration about rollout risks, while another expressed confidence that it will be fixed in time for benefits to go live on Jan. 1.
Andrew Slavitt, executive vice president with the parent of Quality Software Services Inc., said his company told the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services of concerns about testing the Healthcare.gov website.
"We expressed all of those concerns and risks," Slavitt said in testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, without immediately elaborating on what those concerns were.
QSSI, a unit of United Health Group, was hired to build a "data hub" that will allow people to buy insurance on the state exchanges that are the heart of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare policy, commonly called "Obamacare."
Another contractor, website developer CGI Federal, said the website will be fixed in time to allow people to enroll in private health insurance by a Dec. 15 deadline to obtain benefits beginning on Jan. 1.
"The system is working. People are enrolling. But people will be able to enroll at a faster pace," said Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president at CGI Federal.
The troubled rollout of the online exchanges, or marketplaces, is undergoing its first full-length public airing on Thursday in a crowded congressional hearing room, where lawmakers questioned technology contractors.
Lawmakers are trying to determine why the online portal for uninsured Americans in 36 states has malfunctioned since its Oct. 1 start, the beginning of a six-month enrollment period that is expected to draw at least 7 million people to sign up for federally subsidized private insurance for 2014.
Republicans who control the panel criticized top administration officials and contractors for assuring lawmakers over the summer that the system would work, only to produce an enrollment characterized by crashes, glitches and system failures.
"This is not about blame — this is about accountability, transparency, and fairness for the American public. The broken promises are many," said Representative Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican who chairs the committee.
"We still don't know the real picture as the administration appears allergic to transparency and continues to withhold enrollment figures," Upton said.
The Department of Health and Human Services and the White House have largely declined to disclose information about the problems plaguing the system, which cost nearly $400 million to build, according to a report by the watchdog Government Accountability Office.
Democrats dismissed the Republican rhetoric as partisan politics, saying the committee's goal should be to "fix, not nix" the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obama's biggest domestic policy achievement.
"The Affordable Care Act is an enormous success with one obvious exception: it has a poorly designed website," said Representative Henry Waxman, the lead Democrat on the panel.
HONOLULU — With the launch of the Obamacare health care exchange Hawaii Health Connector, expect to see more state and federal dollars flowing to Hawaii’s needy.
Hawaii’s Legislature appropriated $2.75 billion for fiscal year 2013 and $2.83 billion for FY 2014 — or about 20 percent of the state general fund budget — for “social services” operating expenses.
To put that in perspective, in FY 2012, 176,676 people received food stamps; 287,000 residents received health-care benefits; 5,537 people per month took welfare General Assistance; and another 20,234 families benefited from child care subsidies. Cato Institute reported the 50th state offers more generous welfare benefits than any other, an average of $49,175 per year for a mother of two.
Patricia McManaman, director of the state Department of Human Services, said under federal guidelines, asset tests and proof of income requirements for new recipients and people renewing their applications for welfare benefits will be waived to ensure Hawaii’s poor aren’t burdened with providing the paperwork.
That concerns Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom.
“Proponents brag about the Connector being the easy gateway for even greater welfare expansion in Hawaii with no requirement for income, asset or needs limits,” Slom said. “This program, a key component of Obamacare, will disconnect individuals from the reality of higher welfare costs and increased taxes.”
That sets up a perfect storm for undeserving and unqualified residents to scam the system.
To find fraud in such a massive system, the Department of Human Services rely on residents to report suspicious activity to the agency.
About 1,000 tips and complaints are lodged each year through a fraud phone hotline and the mail, which are reviewed by 13 fraud investigators, according to statistics provided by the Department of Human Services.
However, number of prosecutions has decreased during the past three years.
In FY 2013, 1,110 complaints were filed, resulting in 21 convictions for welfare fraud related crimes that year. The state lost about $227,000.
That compares with 1,136 complaints filed in FY 2012, 48 convictions for welfare related crimes, for a total loss of more than $891,000 to the state.
In FY 2011, there were 1033 complaints, 69 people convicted of welfare fraud related crimes, totaling about $1,160,000 in losses to the state.
Eligibility workers and line unit workers with the Department of Human Services also report fraud.
“All reports are reviewed, with 70 to 75 percent of reports closed because the client hasn’t committed fraud or that person is not on assistance as the complainant thought,” said Kayla Rosenfeld, communications specialist and public information officer for the Department of Human Services.
Those caught for administrative violations are not automatically eliminated from receiving government benefits, but felons on parole or those with outstanding warrants are supposed to be.
“Individuals who have been administratively disqualified from SNAP (or food stamps) and financial assistance receive 12 months disqualification for their first offense, 24 months for their second offense, and permanently for their third offense,” Rosenfeld said. “The Fleeing Felon Program, which has been in existence for 10 years, has saved the department approximately $12 million by stopping SNAP (and) financial assistance benefits of recipients with outstanding felony warrants or who are probation or parole violators.”
Recent Congressional Votes
Upcoming Congressional Bills
Editor's Note: The Senate is in recess this week.
Recent Senate Votes
Continuing Appropriations and Debt Limit Suspension – Passage - Vote Passed (81-18, 1 Not Voting)
Senators approved a continuing appropriations resolution on Wednesday night, bringing an end to the 16-day partial government shutdown that began with the end of the federal fiscal year. The measure also extended the Treasury’s ability to borrow to pay the nation’s debt obligations, avoiding a potentially-catastrophic default that loomed days later. The Senate’s leaders, Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada and Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, hammered out the compromise early in the week after House Republicans failed to come to a consensus for their own plan. Their solution almost entirely avoided the issue of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the implementation of which some conservative Republican senators had hoped to delay in exchange for restoring FY 2014 discretionary spending and raising the debt ceiling. The continuing resolution authorizes federal discretionary spending at levels established by sequester cuts, which amount to about $986 billion annually. Senators added about 3 billion dollars of additional spending to support natural disaster recovery, fight wildfires, and complete funding for a major dam and lock project on the Ohio River. It extended the Treasury’s borrowing authority through Feb. 7, allowing the federal government to exceed the current statutory limit of $16.7 trillion on the national debt. The resolution also provided back pay for those federal and District of Columbia government workers who were furloughed after funds ran out on Oct. 1. To avoid the need to pass another continuing appropriations resolution in the absence of a new federal budget, the deal also required the House and Senate to form a budget conference committee. The body will have to iron out an agreement for the rest of Fiscal 2014 by Dec. 13. Republicans gained one small concession in the final package, as the bill also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure it is verifying the income of individuals purchasing subsidized health insurance on its marketplace exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act. Under the 2010 law, exchanges opened for business on Oct. 1. Eighteen of the Senate’s most conservative Republican members voted against the measure.
Sen. Brian Schatz voted YES
Sen. Mazie Hirono voted YES
Recent House Votes
Continuing Appropriations and Debt Limit Suspension – Motion to Concur - Vote Passed (285-144, 3 Not Voting)
House members voted late Wednesday to end the partial government shutdown by passing a continuing appropriations resolution to fund the government through Jan. 15, 2014. The vote receded amendments previously approved by the chamber and accepted a resolution to the standoff that Senators forged at the beginning of last week and passed hours before. President Obama signed the continuing resolution shortly after midnight on Oct. 17. House Republican leadership offered several proposals to end the government shutdown and raise the federal debt ceiling early last week. The GOP caucus, however, could not come to a consensus on which plan to support. Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, decided to accept the Senate compromise as the risk of a default on the national debt by the Treasury loomed ever closer last week. The resolution did not postpone implementation of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the major target of House conservative Republicans in delaying FY 2014 funds and an extension of the Treasury’s debt ceiling. During the final vote, 144 Republicans voted against the measure while only 87 supported it. All 198 voting Democrats approved the resolution.
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa voted YES
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard voted YES
Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 - H.R.3080
The House will consider legislation to reauthorize federal water development projects.
U.S. President Barack Obama says he is frustrated by technical problems with his administration's new online health insurance marketplace. But, he says the kinks -- or troubles -- in the system will "get fixed" and the law that created it is a good deal for the American people.
In a speech at the White House Rose Garden on Monday, Obama said "nobody is madder" than him that the HealthCare.Gov site has not worked properly since it opened on October 1.
The website is a key element of the president's 2010 Affordable Care Act, which has also become known as Obamacare and was designed to make it easier for Americans to obtain private health insurance.
Internet users have been unable to create accounts, received confusing error messages and pages that loaded slowly or failed to respond.
The president said his administration has recruited some of America's best private sector technology experts to get the website working faster and better.
Obama said the Affordable Care Act is more than "just a website." He said he fought for it, despite Republican opposition, to ensure that millions of uninsured Americans can get the same "quality" and "affordable" health care as others.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed Obama's remarks in a Twitter post, saying Obamacare "costs too much and is not working the way they promised."
McConnell also reiterated Republican calls for the president to delay what he called "this rushed effort."
Obama was joined in the Rose Garden by Americans who have already applied for health insurance through the site or are planning to do so.
He said he recognizes that Republicans have made blocking Obamacare "their signature idea." He said he is willing to work with anyone on ideas to make the law work better, but called for opponents to, as he put it, "stop rooting for its failure."
Demands by congressional Republicans to defund or delay Obamacare contributed to a partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government earlier this month.
The Republicans demanded the changes to the healthcare law as a condition for funding government operations beyond October 1, but Mr. Obama and his allies in the Democratic-led Senate refused, leading to the 16-day partial shutdown.
It ended with a bipartisan deal to reopen the government and avoid a U.S. debt default. The agreement did not include major changes to Obamacare.
The Health and Human Services Department, which administers HealthCare.Gov, said Sunday its experts are updating the site with new code that includes bug fixes and conducting regular tests to improve the user experience.
The Obama administration initially blamed the glitches on a high volume of people trying to access the site. It has since acknowledged broader problems with the system, while insisting public demand for the product is strong.
Obama said more than half a million applications for health insurance have been received through Healthcare.gov since October 1. Users must file applications before they can enroll in a plan.
He also said "thousands" have enrolled. U.S. media say the administration has a goal of enrolling seven million Americans by March 31. Individuals who are not insured are mandated to sign up for a plan by that date or face a penalty.
Critics say that if not enough young, healthy people join the health plans, premiums may rise for those who do enroll.
BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN - HONOLULU - Vaughn G. Sherwood made an art form of scamming local and federal taxpayers during the past 14 years, taking numerous government benefits he was not entitled to, FBI agents said after arresting him in Honolulu on Thursday, October 18.
Sherwood, 66, who had inherited $360,000 from his deceased parents, owned a sailboat and a Yamaha Jetboat, and drove a Mercedes Benz S420 automobile, allegedly defrauded multiple government programs under his own identity and stolen identities, according to an affidavit filed with the U.S. District Court by FBI Special Agent Tom Simon.
The FBI affidavit said Sherwood received welfare cash and food stamps for 9 years from the state Department of Human Services after claiming to be homeless. Using a fraudulent birth certificate, various social security cards, and different names, the affidavit said Sherwood obtained $6,500 in welfare cash payments, $5,800 in food stamps and $24,000 in medical benefits.
Court records also allege Sherwood secured $109,000 in Section 8 housing assistance over a 14-year period from the City & County of Honolulu and obtained $22,000 in tuition assistance at Kapiolani Community College and also enrolled at the Honolulu Community College and University of Hawaii-Manoa using multiple false identities to register for online courses. Both his under graduate and master’s degree tuition at the three University of Hawaii campuses were paid for by federal student tuition assistance, court records show.
Using a false identity and claiming to have heart failure, Sherwood also applied with the Department of Human Services to be his own caregiver in 2009 and received $8,000 as a result from Medicaid, court records said.
In all, the FBI said Sherwood took more than $200,000 in benefits he wasn't entitled to.
On Thursday, FBI agents arrested Sherwood for "theft of government property."
In the process of searching his Waikiki condominium, FBI agents recovered two rifles and four handguns that agents said Sherwood was not permitted to possess because of previous convictions including felony assault convictions and possession of narcotic equipment. The affidavit said Sherwood also had three DUI convictions and another for contempt of court.
Sherwood is also being charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, court records show.
The State of Hawaii Department of Human Services, the agency that oversaw the distribution of some of these benefits to Sherwood, assisted the FBI with the investigation.
Simon said the FBI will continue to work with law enforcement partners to ensure that government program defrauders are held accountable for their actions.
"In a week where government money is on everyone's mind, this case serves as a reminder that theft of taxpayer dollars will not be tolerated," Simon said.
Under federal law, Sherwood could face 10 years in federal prison for theft and another 10 years in federal prison for firearms violations. He will be detained at the Federal Detention Center at least until his hearing on October 22, 2013.