Hawaii Moves Toward Universal Home Health Coverage

As the nation readies itself for an influx of aging baby boomers, guaranteed funding for a basic level of senior care may become a reality in at least one state this year.

Hawaii State Senator Roslyn Baker intends to introduce a long-term care bill, which could become a national model for states searching for ways to help families afford the high costs of senior care, in Hawaii’s upcoming 2016 legislative session, The American Prospect reported.

“We think the timing is right, even though it’s an election year,” Baker told The American Prospect. “We’re going to work to help people understand exactly what the funding mechanism is, how small a tax burden it is, and just how it will help lots and lots of people afford the care they need.”

As part of Hawaii’s proposed social insurance program, everyone who files a state income tax in Hawaii for 10 years would become eligible to receive $70 a day for a total of 365 days. A minor increase in the state’s General Excise Tax, a tax on all businesses’ gross income, would underwrite the benefit. Hawaii’s successful tourist industry would help boost the fund because tourists, who pay the General Excise Tax as well, would fund approximately 35% of the long-term care program but would never claim the benefit themselves.

Hawaii’s proposed social insurance program would not cover the cost of assisted living or skilled nursing facilities, though it would offer more flexibility and money to families that are already providing long-term care, The American Prospect reported.

“Our target was to look at what it would cost to help someone get four hours of home or community care,” Dr. Lawrence Nitz, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa who conducted research on long-term care financing for the state, explained to The American Prospect. “Seventy dollars means you could plan to go to work, you could take time to meet your child’s teacher. It’s enough to help people avoid losing their jobs, while still balancing care responsibilities.”

The bill’s supporters have claimed its passage will help ease the financial burden on families caring for seniors, as well as create more high-quality home care jobs for the primarily women and immigrant workers who often fill these roles.

“Hawaii has a tradition of being at the forefront of health care policy,”  Kevin Simowitz, the political director for Caring Across Generations, a national organization that aims to help people age with dignity and independence, told The American Prospect. “Long before the Affordable Care Act, Hawaiians had a plan to make sure that workers had quality affordable health care. This would not be the first time they’ve done something a little bit provocative and groundbreaking.”

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

Photo courtesy John Morgan