In an unusual move, Gov. David Ige has intervened in a controversial proposal that would pave the way for the privatization of Maui Memorial Medical Center, which lost more than $43 million last year.
The House was prepared to agree with the latest Senate draft of House Bill 1075, which creates a framework for transitioning Maui hospitals to nonprofit management.
But Ige said Tuesday he had concerns about the proposal, and requested a meeting with House Speaker Joseph Souki from Maui, who sponsored the measure.
Now, instead of heading to the governor’s desk, the bill will join hundreds of other measures that lawmakers will debate over the next two weeks in an end-of-session negotiating period known as conference committee.
Governor David Ige
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The latest version of the measure was strongly opposed by the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the largest union in the state, which fears layoffs.
The governor called a press conference Tuesday that featured a dozen lawmakers, including the leaders of both chambers.
The news conference was billed in an advance press release as the “Governor, Senate and House come to an understanding on Maui healthcare reform.”
Both Souki and Senate President Donna Mercado Kim emphasized that they’re happy that Ige is taking a leadership role and that they’ll work together.
“We’ve worked with the governors in the past but not as close as this one,” said Souki, thanking Ige.
Kim said that the news conference ensures transparency and preempts speculation that there was a move to derail the measure.
But Ige was guarded about what his specific concerns are and twice refused to say exactly what they are under questioning from reporters.
“I don’t know what Governor Ige’s concerns are about the hospital bill. We are trying to find out but I don’t want to speculate because we just don’t know.” — Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa
Asked twice about whether he was concerned about layoffs, he didn’t respond directly and noted that is an issue that will be discussed in conference committee.
He said he didn’t speak with the union about his decision, nor Hawaii Pacific Health, a nonprofit health care system that is angling to manage Maui Memorial and supports the latest draft of the measure.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa said HB 1075 is critical to help Maui Memorial avoid losing an estimated $800 million over the next 10 years.
“I don’t know what Governor Ige’s concerns are about the hospital bill,” Arakawa said in an emailed statement. “We are trying to find out but I don’t want to speculate because we just don’t know.”
“The time has come for the state to either put in the money to keep Maui Memorial running, or to allow another entity to take over operations,” he added. “Maui Memorial is our only major hospital, and this bill is the best chance we have to keep it up and running.”
In written testimony on the bill, the Ige administration said it wants to discuss the benefits of a competitive private entity selection process; the process for negotiating and approving the transition; the liabilities to be assumed by the hospital system and the state; the purpose of the operating subsidy, particularly its open-ended nature; and the purpose of the subsidy for capital improvement projects.
Last year, a similar proposal was also strongly opposed by the state’s largest union, and ended up dying in conference committee.
It’s not the first time that Ige has publicly intervened in the legislative process. During a grueling confirmation hearing for Carleton Ching, the govenor’s ill-fated pick to lead the state department of land and natural resources, the governor stood up and interrupted Sen. Laura Thielen’s line of questioning to defend his candidate.