Care home industry representatives say Noburo and Elaine Kawamoto are being prevented from living together by state regulations. Now the elderly married couple has filed a lawsuit against Gov. David Ige, Department of Health Director Virginia Pressler and Human Services Department Director Rachael Wong.

The care home industry has long touted the Kawamotos’ story as a reason to change a Hawaii law that prevents more than one private-pay patient from living in a community care foster family home.

Noburo, a 94-year-old decorated World War II veteran, said he preferred the residential setting of community homes to institutional settings. As a result, the couple says they can’t live together.

Noboru Kawamoto is wheeled into the Capitol for a legislative hearing.
Noboru Kawamoto is wheeled into the Capitol for a legislative hearing. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Skeptics of the Kawamotos’ story have said the couple could move to a home that allows more than one private-pay client, and that the regulations protect care home clients who are on Medicaid.

Community care foster homes can take up to three patients at a time, but two of those must be on Medicaid, which serves low-income patients.

During the 2015 legislative session, House Vice Speaker John Mizuno said an unforeseen “dilemma” meant that accepting Elaine Kawamoto into her husband’s home meant a Medicaid patient would need to be kicked out.

Earlier this year when lawmakers attempted a revival of legislation to make an exception for two private-pay patients in community care foster homes, state Health Department Director Pressler said the program was designed with Medicaid patients in mind.

“The legal effect of these laws (aimed for Medicaid patients’ benefit) is that private-paying, non-Medicaid elderly spouses who require the services of a community care foster family home cannot live together under the same roof,” the legal complaint says.

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