By HUNTER BISHOP
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A bill that backers claim will bring more physicians to Hawaii County passed easily through the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday.
“It went the way we would have hoped,” said Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona, chairman of the Senate Health Committee which adopted Senate Bill 664 unanimously on Feb. 5.
The Senate Health Committee’s version of the bill, which Green introduced, appropriated $2.8 million in Fiscal Year 2013-14 and the same amount in the FY 2014-15, to support Hilo Medical Center’s residency program known as the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. Primary Care Training Program. The program would be used to recruit and retain up to four doctors a year in Hawaii County, where a shortage of up to 150 physicians has been identified, according to testimony accompanying the bill.
“It should go down to the floor for a vote,” where it’s expected to be sent over to the House side by the full Senate, said Sen. Gil Kahele, D-Hilo, a member of the Ways and Means Committee. “So far, so good,” Kahele said. With “teamwork between the House and Senate, hopefully we can get this through. We really need it in Hilo.”
The amount of the appropriation was removed from the bill, however, described as a “technical” amendment. “They took it up quickly and passed it,” which is what Green said he asked WAM Committee Chairman David Ige to do. “Now we’ll work on the House side,” said Green, who will be meeting with House leaders to discuss the bill.
“They always take the money out of the bill,” Green said. “I’ve grown accustomed to leaving the (amount) in there so that everybody knows what we are talking about.” Funding would be worked out later in committee meetings, he said. “I would hope they pass it.
“It’s more important that the decision-makers understand the bill and the need for it.” Green was pleased that Ige “prioritized” the bill and that it passed to the House side of the Legislature without opposition.
The bill has generated widespread support from County government officials, business organizations and private individuals throughout the state, according to documents posted on the Legislature’s Web site. Howard Ainsley, CEO of Hilo Medical Center, and Bruce Anderson, CEO of HHSC, which operates eight hospitals in Hawaii, including Hilo Medical Center, also support the measure.
Kaloa Robinson, director of marketing for Hilo Medical Center, has been tracking bill SB 664 and said Thursday’s hearing went “really well.” A date for the House version of the bill has not been set yet in the House Finance Committee, but it’s expected to be heard next week, he said.