Everything from hula to lomilomi massage is free for AlohaCare’s 83,000 members.

One of Hawaii’s largest insurance providers has started offering Native Hawaiian cultural practices as part of its suite of covered services.

AlohaCare, which serves primarily Medicaid and some Medicare clients, is offering hooponopono, lomilomi, ai pono and hula to support what it calls “whole person care and wellness in partnership with community practitioners.”

The services are provided free of charge to AlohaCare’s approximately 83,000 members. The program, called Ke Aloha Mau, began last fall and is currently being rolled out across the Hawaiian Islands.

A group of women dance hula together under the direction of Kumu hula Mahealani Kalikolau 'olenakalani at the Magic Island Park in Honolulu, Thursday, July 9, 2020. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
Hula is among the Native Hawaiian practices now covered by AlohaCare. (Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020)

AlohaCare is partnering with community health centers and Native Hawaiian Health Care Systems to offer the services.

The pandemic was a wake-up call that focused attention on gaps in services and the need for additional ways to help people stay healthy, said Francoise Culley-Trotman, chief executive of AlohaCare.

AlohaCare Chief Executive Francoise Culley-Trotman (Courtsey: AlohaCare)

Planning for the launch of Ke Aloha Mau started in 2020 during year one of the pandemic with “everyone having a heightened understanding that in our community we’re struggling to meet basic needs.”

The company organized listening sessions and got feedback from AlohaCare members and overwhelmingly the direction clients wanted AlohaCare to go in was to expand culturally rooted health practices.

One of those is hooponopono, a Native Hawaiian healing practice that can help improve family relationships by allowing couples and other family members to resolve conflicts and improve communication. It involves spiritual discussions to restore bonds and heal wounds within a family, according to the AlohaCare website.

Another practice AlohaCare is offering is hula, the Native Hawaiian form of dance. It stimulates physical movement which research has shown to strengthen the immune system, lower blood pressure, boost mental health and provide an array of other benefits.

Lomilomi, a Native Hawaiian physiotherapy and massage form, is designed to stretch and realign the body and decrease stress. And Ai pono is the practice surrounding a traditional healthy Hawaiian diet centered around locally grown and prepared food items.

Lomilomi is designed to stretch and realign the body and decrease stress. (Courtsey: AlohaCare)

In 2020, a report from the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine highlighted the need for culturally responsive programs to address social and health inequities among the Native Hawaiian population.

The report analyzed data that shows Native Hawaiians suffer from coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes at a rate three times greater than other ethnic groups.

It also provided evidence-based research indicating that the health of Native Hawaiians will improve when their care is rooted in Native Hawaiian culture.  

Waimanalo Health Center
Waimanalo Health Center is among those offering Native Hawaiian services covered by AlohaCare insurance. (Catherine Toth Fox/Civil Beat/2023)

Sheri Daniels, chief executive of the nonprofit consortium Papa Ola Lokahi, said AlohaCare is providing a “great opportunity for communities and residents” to have insurance cover Native Hawaiian services that target “some of our cultural values and beliefs.”

One of the Native Hawaiian health centers that is offering some of the services is in Waimanalo on the east side of Oahu and has seven Native Hawaiian practitioners on staff.

Waimanalo Health Center started developing its cultural medicine program in 2015 with the hiring of Kumu Leinaala Bright, the center’s director of cultural health services.

The Native Hawaiian health practitioner brings over 30 years of lomilomi experience. She offers classes in, among other things, laau lapaau, which is Hawaiian herbal medicine.

Kumu Leinaala Bright (Courtesy: Waimanalo Health Center)

The traditional medicine and cultural healing programs have been wildly successful, Bright said.

In response to high interest, Bright developed a series of educational programs, including Laws of Ola, Papa Laau and Mahi Laau Lapaau.

The goal is to teach people how to live healthy lifestyles and to grow and use medicinal herbs to treat a variety of conditions.

These practices, bridge Western medicine and Indigenous knowledge, appeal to many who would otherwise shun the doctor’s office.

“It’s been very healing and supportive,” Bright said.

AlohaCare’s Ke Aloha Mau program is also available at Hui Ke Ola Pono clinic on Maui and Hui Malama Ola Na Oiwi in Hilo on the Big Island.

The company is in various stages of implementing the program at Kokua Kalihi Valley, Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, Hamakua-Kohala Health Center, Hoola Lahui Hawaii (Kauai Community Health Center) and Hawaii Island Community Health Center.

Civil Beat’s community health coverage is supported by the Atherton Family Foundation, Swayne Family Fund of Hawaii Community Foundation, the Cooke Foundation and Papa Ola Lokahi.

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