Star-Advertiser, 18 Jan. 2017
A group of health leaders is proposing public policy changes such as a minimum wage hike and public dental benefits for low-income residents in an attempt to reduce health disparities among Native Hawaiians with a higher proportion of chronic diseases.
The Native Hawaiian Health Task Force, created in 2013, presented 16 public policy measures to lawmakers Tuesday. Among the most controversial is raising the minimum wage, currently set at $9.25 an hour, to $15 an hour by 2020. The group also is calling for the restoration of adult dental benefits for enrollees of Medicaid, the government health insurance program for low-income residents, and the creation of public school-based health centers for children.
“We develop chronic diseases 10 years sooner than other groups, and we die 10 years earlier than other groups,” said Keawe‘aimoku Kaholokula, chairman of the University of Hawaii Department of Native Hawaiian Health, who is part of the task force.
Native Hawaiians are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, including cancer, and live in environments with poor or low access to healthful food, education and safe physical environments, he told key Senate leaders on the eve of the legislative session.
The group is asking lawmakers to improve public sidewalks and parks in places where Native Hawaiians live, and for a portion of the transient accommodations tax and the establishment of a 9.25 percent fee on restaurants and entertainment venues to go toward social, educational and economic programs that benefit Native Hawaiians. The group also is requesting an expansion of health insurance benefits to include reimbursements for traditional practices including hula dancing and canoe paddling.
Key senators on the health and human services committees said they are ready to move forward on proposals, but directed the group to come up with more specific, actionable bills to advocate this session.
“We’re ready to move. We don’t need to do more task force studies or compilations of data. We need actionable items such as legislation of what to do,” said Sen. J. Kalani English (D, Hana-East-Upcountry Maui).
“We don’t need any more talk. What’s good for Native Hawaiians is good for all,” added Sen. Brickwood Galuteria (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako). “We are so on board.”
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