BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN - HONOLULU — A new report from State Budget Solutions, a national nonprofit organization focusing on states’ fiscal responsibility, warns it’s time for newly elected state officials in Hawaii and throughout the country to address unfunded liabilities in the retirement system.
The share of Hawaii’s $30-billion unfunded liability per resident is $21,852, the seventh highest in the nation, said Joe Luppino-Esposito, the study’s author.
He said Hawaii’s Employees’ Retirement System is only 29 percent funded because the state isn’t putting enough money into the system to pay future promised benefits. The unfunded liability amounts to 41 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.
State officials paint a different — if still grim — picture, showing the pension system as 60 percent funded.
The translation in real dollars is $8.5 billion. That’s a major discrepancy from the SBS $30 billion estimate.
The main difference, Luppino-Esposito said, is the discount rate used. That’s the rate that determines how much money is needed today to have enough revenues in the future to meet obligations to retirees.
Hawaii uses a 7.75 percent discount rate, assuming the plan will average 7.75 percent investment growth over time, a number Luppino-Esposito said “is far too high.”
“Hawaii should use a risk-free rate instead, ensuring that state employees will actually get the pension they were promised,” Luppino-Esposito said.
Hawaii is far from alone. The SBS report, which reviewed 250 plans, documents state governments are in a $4.7 trillion hole. Liabilities have increased roughly $600 billion since last year. The average state public pension plan is only 36 percent funded, the report said.
Wes Machida, executive director of Hawaii’s Employees’ Retirement System, acknowledged there are some elements in the study to which the state should pay attention.
“There are concerns about employers being able to make those kinds of contributions,” Machida said. The “employers” he is referring to are state and local governments.
“At some point down the road, this will likely be an issue for Hawaii. The requirements will be so high as to outgrow what is available in the general fund. That is a possibility if we don’t do something to help with the situation,” Machida said.
Pension reforms implemented by the Legislature in the past four years should help, he said.
Machida and the Employees’ Retirement System Board of Trustees hope Hawaii’s newly elected governor, David Ige, will push additional reforms to further reduce benefits for new hires. The next legislative session begins in January.
Lawmakers in 2011 and 2012 approved legislation that reduced retirement benefits for new state employees who entered the system as of June 30, 2012. Another change in 2012 prevents workers from accruing benefits from overtime, bonuses, lump sum salary and allowances.
In 2011, legislation increased the employer and employee contribution rates. Employees pay between 6 to 14.2 percent of their pay into the fund. Employer contributions are steadily increasing until 2016, when the contribution rate will stabilize at 17 percent of pay for all employees except police officers and firefighters. Those agencies will contribute 25 percent of their employees’ pay.
Other changes include doubling from five to 10 the number of years it takes to become vested in the system.
Machida said the Board of Trustees lowered the anticipated rate of return for next year on investments. The rate will be reduced gradually over the next three years to 7.5 percent, and will be reviewed annually by the board, Machida said.
According to state figures, the retirement fund is at $13.9 billion as of Sept. 30, but because markets have grown, Machida said the fund is probably around $14 billion now.
Another $8.5 billion is needed to cover unfunded liabilities or future payments owed to the more than 115,000 people in the system, including all retirement income, death and termination benefits, but the state won’t be able to cover that amount for decades.
To put it in perspective, the state’s biennium operating and capital budgets are $24 billion during the next two fiscal years.
The state’s financial plan will pay off the retirement system’s unfunded liabilities within 26 years.
“The most important thing is we need to monitor what is going on with the fund and how the investment markets are impacting us. That also includes how the membership has changed and what their retirement needs are,” Machida said.
“If more people start to retire earlier, we will need more payouts, and that will require us to liquidate more funds. If members start living longer, we will need more benefit payouts. There are many different areas to monitor to make sure the fund is properly funded,” Machida added.
Between 2,000 to 2,500 state and county employees retire each year in Hawaii, adding to the $1.1 billion annual payout already made to 67,000 retirees in the plan, which has additional challenges not necessarily encountered in the rest of the country. The average life expectancy for members in Hawaii is 82 to 83 years of age, much greater than the national average, Machida said.Use Facebook to Comment on this Post
By Jasmine Greenamyer - Colon cancer will claim more than 50,000 American lives this year. One in 20 people will be diagnosed at some point in their lives.
Thanks to better screening and new treatments, the death rate from colon cancer has been dropping for more than 20 years. But even the best screening and treatment can't help those unable to afford health care.
The Affordable Care Act was designed to help make sure patients could receive the care they need. But it's failing America's most vulnerable patients. Congress must make sure the Affordable Care Act lives up to its name and enables people to access the health coverage they need.
When Congress passed healthcare reform, one key protection for patients was a requirement that insurers cover a minimum set of "essential" benefits. Another protection banned insurers from discriminating based on health status. Despite these protections, many of the insurers offering plans on the new insurance exchanges are shifting the cost burden of medications to patients.
Put simply, Congressional intent is being ignored.
That's why lawmakers must step in to make sure the Department of Health and Human Services updates its essential health benefits rule. Congress must also call on HHS to provide guidance to states that are being asked to assess whether exchange plans are discriminating against certain patients.
All exchange plans are required by law to cover prescription drugs. Each insurer maintains a list of prescription drugs -- a formulary -- that specifies the drugs it will cover. But most formularies have four or more "tiers" of coverage that place increasing cost-sharing obligations on patients. The surprise comes when you develop a condition whose medications fall into the top tier.
The first tier, usually for the most commonly prescribed medications, might include a modest copay of, say $20. But the highest tier typically involves co-insurance, in which the patient is responsible for a fixed percentage of the cost of a drug. The coinsurance percentage can run to 40 percent or more for drugs that can costs thousands of dollars.
This means that patients can get stuck with huge bills. The impact falls disproportionately on patients with serious conditions that require expensive medications, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS.
Indeed, a recent study by Avalere Health analyzed 123 mid-level exchange plans and found that more than 60 percent place all medication for cancer and other life-threatening conditions on the highest cost-sharing tier.
These formularies seem discriminatory, but HHS hasn't stepped in to crack down on insurers. Congress must call on federal officials to make clear that discriminatory coverage is prohibited.
Such high out-of-pocket drug costs threaten to put necessary treatments out of reach for the patients who need them most. Patients are left with little choice but to deplete their savings or retirement funds, declare bankruptcy, or skip or refuse treatments.
Researchers at Duke University Medical Center surveyed cancer patients to learn how they coped with these costs. Nearly half described the financial burden as "significant" or "catastrophic." Forty-six percent had to cut back on basic needs such as groceries.
The greater the cost-sharing, the more likely a patient will postpone or forgo medication. According to a study by University of North Carolina researchers, patients with higher co-payments were 70 percent more likely to stop taking their cancer treatment and 42 percent more likely to skip doses.
This is a serious, life-threatening problem. Skipping treatments significantly increases the risk of relapse. Missing even just 15 percent of a prescribed dose can lead to a recurrence of the cancer.
Getting a colon cancer diagnosis is bad enough without adding exorbitant out-of-pocket costs for treatment. If the new health law is to live up to its promise of affordable care, Congress must create a solution and help people get the care they need and deserve.
Jasmine Greenamyer is the Chief Operating Officer of the Colon Cancer Alliance.
HONOLULU – Attorney General David M. Louie and Director of Human Services Patricia McManaman jointly announced today that a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court validates the state’s authority to determine the level of health care coverage provided to noncitizens who are ineligible for federal Medicaid. The high court’s decision also confirms that the state did not discriminate when it exercised that authority in 2010.
On Monday, Nov.3, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected plaintiffs’ appeal in Korab v. McManaman, which leaves intact the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in favor of the state. That decision found the state was not required provide state-funded medical assistance benefits to noncitizens after the federal Medicaid program excluded them.
The federal Welfare Reform Act of 1996 eliminated federal health care funding for many noncitizens, including migrants from Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia.These island nations have a Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the United States that allows their citizens to live and work in the U.S. Even after federal funds were not available, the state continued state-funded medical assistance benefits for COFA residents. The benefits provided were essentially the same as citizens received under federal Medicaid until 2010 when the state sought to implement a more limited program for noncitizens. Plaintiffs in the Korab case are noncitizen COFA residents whose benefits would have been reduced under the 2010 program. Federal District Court Judge Michael Seabright sided with the plaintiffs and issued an injunction blocking implementation of the program in 2010.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the District Court earlier this year, and held that Hawaii is not required to replace the federally-funded health care benefits that were lost under the federal Welfare Reform Act. The state has remained subject to the injunction pending the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, and expects the Federal District Court to dissolve the injunction shortly.
According to Attorney General Louie, “This decision is important because it confirms that the state's actions were not discriminatory. But it is also important to know that the state intends to continue providing significant assistance to these individuals.”
“My administration is committed to the principle that all Hawaii residents should have health insurance,” said Gov. Neil Abercrombie. “The state will strive to ensure that our neediest residents, including noncitizens, have access to quality health care coverage.”
According to Director McManaman, “The state’s plan going forward includes a program that provides Medicaid-like coverage to our neediest aged, blind, and disabled noncitizens. Coverage for children and pregnant adults will remain unchanged. The plan also includes a transition period for other non-pregnant adult noncitizens to obtain health insurance through the Hawaii Health Connector, and a state-funded program to help these very low-income noncitizens pay their share of their health insurance premiums. This ensures that needy noncitizens who are ineligible for Medicaid still have access to quality, affordable health insurance.”
Adult noncitizens who are not pregnant, and are not aged, blind, or disabled, and who were eligible beneficiaries under the injunction, will continue to receive their current level of benefits until the new programs are implemented. Those beneficiaries will soon receive a notice in the mail explaining the changes, and they should contact the Department of Human Services at the number provided on the notice if they have any questions.
BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN - HONOLULU — Some Hawaii companies are taking advantage of visitors and elderly residents, but state officials are thwarting attempts to investigate, a supervisor with the state Department of Commerce says.
Aquilino “Aku” Idao, of the department’s Consumer Affairs’ office, has filed a complaint with two state Senate committee chairman.
Idao, who has worked in law enforcement for 25 years, said he is charged with pursuing criminal cases against companies and their owners who violate state law.
His supervisors have prevented him from pursuing criminal action no matter how egregious, he says.
Idao cites a case in which Shane’s Appliance, since 2008, has been targeted with 60 complaints from residents, mainly senior citizens, “for unfair and deceptive trade practices.” The company has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau.
Timothy Caminos, Director of Communications & Public Relations at the Better Business, confirmed Shane’s Appliance has had a pattern of complaints dating back to late 2010 that are also on record with that consumer watchdog agency.
“Complaints allege that the business takes payment for appliance repair upfront - generally 100 percent - and does not perform the work,” Caminos said.
In September of 2011 there was a Court action that required Shane’s Appliance to pay restitution.
“Leading up to and during the time of their court case the complaints stopped. Within a few months of the judgment being handed down complaints resumed describing the same pattern of complaints prior to the court action. Thirteen complaints have come in over the last three months,” Caminos said.
Idao began working for the Office of Consumer Protection in 2012 and began investigating the company, though his supervisors prevented him from pursuing criminal charges.
“I was counseled and written up by the executive director, and I was ordered to cease any criminal investigations. This action resulted in several more elderly complainants being victimized,” Idao said.
In another case, Idao found several file drawers of consumer complaints filed against a Hawaii business offering “time share vacations.”
The company, which went under several aliases, but primarily is known as Just Dreams LLC of Maui and Honolulu, had 145 filed complaints against them.
“There are hundreds of unreported victims and the losses have surpassed $1 million, as just $900,000 was identified as flowing from one business account in just one year,” he wrote to the Senate chairs.
The Better Business Bureau is also quite familiar with Just Dreams, parent company to Paradise Blue and Destination Paradise.
Both subsidiaries are no longer actively selling products, however it appears that one of them exists in a support function to the parent company, Caminos said.
“Pattern of complaints against company allege that consumers are shown a demo on how to obtain 5 star inexpensive vacations, but company fails to deliver results that are made during the presentation,” Caminos said.
“Consumers are given a cancelation period but the products do not arrive until after the cancelation period has passed. Unfortunately for consumers – they are normally signing a contract or agreement, which are generally binding so if a complaint is received the company usually has a signed agreement or contact from the consumer with the terms of the sale. This is one of those instances where consumers need to be really clear about what they are signing,” Caminos said.
Brent Suyama, a spokesman for the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, said the department would not disclose its policy regarding whether it allows its investigators to pursue criminal cases.
As to Idao’s case, Suyama said the department cannot comment on personnel matters, however he can confirm the matter is under review by the director’s office.
Idao has worked with several law enforcement agencies in various positions over the past two decades, including as a conservation enforcement officer for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, a supervisory investigator for the Honolulu city prosecutor’s office, a special investigator for the state Department of Human Services, a special investigator for the state attorney general’s office, a criminal investigator for the Hawaii County prosecutor, an investigator with Pinkerton Government Services in Manhattan and as a Hawaii County police officer.
In addition to informing key senators about his concerns, Idao has filed complaints with his union, the state’s labor relations board and with the state attorney general’s office.
Senate Public Safety Chair Will Espero, D-Ewa, one of the Senate recipients, said he would review Idao’s complaint and determine whether to take it to the Legislature.
BY PANOS PREVEDOUROS PHD - I hardly ever give election advice. You, my readers, mostly independent and almost evenly split Democrat and Republican have your opinions. So I just offer some brief comments.
For governor my choice is between Duke Aiona and David Ige. Duke was a judge and he’s trustworthy. He’s pro small business of which Hawaii has plenty. David is an engineer with a keen knowledge of the state budget. He has a good working relation with Hawaii’s one-sided Legislature. Both have a grasp of Hawaii’s problems and what a governor can do about them. I think Hawaii will do OK with either of them.
Both Duke and David appear to be calm and collected enough to weather a major storm. It’s almost certain that the next economic recession will occur in the coming four years and it won’t be mild. Hawaii’s fragile economy will be clobbered by pension and EUTF liabilities, by Obamacare cost increases and by military cuts; and by the constant parasitic impacts of rail’s construction and tax.
My advice to the next Governor: Take the time to focus on transportation and energy. The renewable mandates make Hawaii more affordable and the mothballed interisland cable is yet another boondoggle; it costs more than the funds needed to mitigate Oahu’s dependency on oil! Rail won’t do anything for traffic congestion, not upon opening (when?) not ever. Do get serious about tackling the mounting traffic congestion. Upgrade the Honolulu Airport, now ranked 3rd worst in the nation: Fully enclose and air condition all terminals, expand and improve the passport control area, and electrify the Wiki-Wiki asap. Promise to work on these and you’ll get my vote.
I definitely know who to vote for Congress. Both Charles Djou and Mark Takai are smart, decent and knowledgeable candidates. I think Charles has better answers to important issues for Hawaii. The important question is this: What’s the right choice for Hawaii in the U.S. Congress? Answer: A Republican. Luckily, we have a highly competent moderate Republican candidate.
Hawaii’s congressional seniority has dropped from stellar to minimal. In a Republican controlled Senate and House, sending four Democrats is stupid, plain and simple. We’ve already been pushed to the back burner; next we’ll be permanently delegated to the pantry. Charles has congressional seniority and will be positioned in the right side of the aisle. It’s a strategic move to Hawaii’s advantage.
I wish that we finally elect some (centrist) energetic people who will own the mess of state and national debt which jeopardizes the long-term well-being of our state:
Five states with Highest Liability per Taxpayer. Hawaii is in the top-5, of course.
Government Debt per Person. The U.S. has a larger debt per capita than Greece!
The New York Times on Los Angeles' Infrastructure Woes. And an astute commentator wrote: “Can't repair the pipes; can't repair the sidewalks; can't repair the roads. But come hell or high water (pun intended) LA is going to find many tens of $billions for toy trains. Lala Land is no misnomer.”
Honolulu does the same. Is it then Honolala Land?
BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN - HONOLULU – The University of Hawaii Center on Disability Studies gives gift cards to middle school students who participate in a controversial sex education program.
The gift cards, valued at between $10 and $20 each, are issued to 11, 12 and 13-year-olds who participate in Pono Choices. About $52,200 of a $5 million U.S. Office of Adolescent Health grant were used to buy the cards.
“The Pono Choices program provides gift cards to students, who have taken the course, as an incentive to complete student surveys. Student opinion is the most powerful measure in the effectiveness of the program and we support the efforts in seeking such feedback,” said Donalyn Dela Cruz, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii State Department of Education.
The curriculum, developed by the University of Hawaii Center on Disability Studies, set off a firestorm over the past year. Some parents and lawmakers said the program, which taught children as young as age 11 about anal and homosexual sex, was inaccurate and inappropriate.
Rep. Bob McDermott, R-Aiea, who has a 12-year-old son in public school, led the charge to pressure the state Board of Education to pull the curriculum. He accused the DOE of “normalizing homosexual lifestyles” and “putting students at risk by withholding critical facts.”
After pressure from McDermott and the public, the DOE pulled the curriculum and formed a task force to review concerns. The task force released 11 new recommendations on June 6 and stopped the implementation of the program until developers addressed the concerns and inaccuracies. The program was reinstated over the summer.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, the University of Hawaii receives annual funding of just under $1 million a year for five years for the Pono Choices program “to reduce the number of teen pregnancies and incidence of STIs; increase positive bonding in the school and community; increase sense of self-identity and self-efficacy; and improve expectations for the future.”
McDermott, who has highlighted the most controversial and medically inaccurate parts of the curriculum and called for the program to be shut down, said the gift cards are a waste of taxpayer money.
The gift cards render the data collected through Pono Choices meaningless, McDermott said, “because of an inherent bias caused by the financial inducement.”
“This is a shameless manipulation of the data – giving 11-year-old kids a $10 dollar gift card, and then asking them how they liked the program,” McDermott said. “Hawaii's parents are in the unique situation of having their own tax dollars used to propagandize the ‘value’ of this deceptive intrusion into their public schools, to ‘sell’ them on a program they didn't ask for and don't want. Paying to be brainwashed so you will consent to pay more to have your children brainwashed is not a good use of tax dollars.”
McDermott said families were told Pono Choices was a “new curriculum” being tested or a “pilot project,” but were never told their students were participating in a research project.
“Their kids were being used as human subjects for research. This is a horrible breach of trust between the DOE and the owners of the system, the parents,” McDermott said.