Archive for February 2018

2018 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Taxes

February 27, 2018

Opening Day for the Hawaii State Legislature was on January 17 – the same day, 125 years ago, that the Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown.

Slightly less outrageous is the sheer number of bills that are active in the 2018 Hawaii Legislature, which seems to multiply over the years. There are 4,948 current 2017 and 2018 Bills (2,621 House and 2,327 Senate). There are just 60 legislative days to effectively read, discuss, re-write, absorb testimony, and vote on these bills.

For the past few years, I’ve read through the bill summaries to find out about the bills being proposed that affect our money, education, and rights. I rely on these summaries to accurately reflect the legislators’ intentions. This year, instead of compiling an overview, I decided to narrow it down to the bills that I think need the most consideration and debate.

 Here are three significant tax bills to watch in the 2018 Legislative Session. If I’ve missed any tax bills that you think we need to keep our eyes on, please let me know!

1. Would you pay higher taxes for public education? There are a number of tax proposals that want to raise money for public education by adding a surcharge on residential investment properties and visitor accommodations (HB180 HD2, HB182 HD2) or by increasing the general excise tax (GET) by 0.5% (SB1132). As a public good, everyone pays for public education through state income taxes and the GET. Even with strong, fundraising parent-teacher groups, the schools are always in need of more money. Is it fair to require homeowners, including non-residents, to pay higher taxes for a service that is unrelated to their home or property? Is it effective to create a dedicated funding source that has little oversight by Hawaii legislators and taxpayers?

2. Tax over-reach on out-of-state businesses. In an effort to raise more tax revenue, the Legislature is looking to tax retailers or vendors that are not Hawaii businesses – but who may have customers in Hawaii. I think this is a blatant tax overreach. Some bills would require retailers or vendors to submit an annual report to Hawaii (HB398 HD2) or even collect GET (HB345, HB2417, SB161, SB620 SD2 HD2), or create a “marketplace provider” designation for businesses with sales over $100,000 from Hawaii residents (SB2871, SB2890). I think that these bills are a tax over-reach because they tax interstate commerce and attempt to impose taxes on businesses without representation in Hawaii. It places an unfair burden on businesses to be in compliance with Hawaii tax laws.

I hope that if other states attempt to tax Hawaii businesses that do business in their state, but do not have a business presence, our Hawaii legislators will protect us from their tax over-reach.

3. General excise tax (GET) vs. sales tax debate: Some people support the GET, because it has a wide tax base and spreads the burden of taxes to everyone. For just this reason, I think that the GET is unfair – it taxes every level of production, from wholesale to retail, and forces businesses to pay taxes on the taxes it collects! Instead, I support a reasonable sales tax, one that only taxes goods and services sold to the end-user, and affects taxpayers according to how much they consume. So I hope that HB2615, which would require the Tax Review Commission to conduct a feasibility study on whether the general excise and use tax laws should be replaced with a sales tax, gets some support from the Legislature this year.

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 3. Please think about these issues and how they may affect you, everyone around you, and future generations. Whether you have concerns or feel strongly about an issue, speak up, talk about it, and be part of the discussion!

Loving and remembering our pets

February 20, 2018

Today, the Hawaiian Humane Society is celebrating Love Your Pet Day, dedicated to our close relationships and bonds with our pets.

It’s been two months since we said goodbye to our yellow Lab, twelve years since we said goodbye to our cat, and we miss them. While I don’t have a pet to pamper today, I want to remember our pets and appreciate the ways they enriched our lives.

Our cat was very independent. He was not a lap cat, though he mellowed when he got older. He would only come to us when he was hungry, and he wasn’t afraid to stick a paw onto our plates to steal some food. He loved to sit on high places, where he could look down at us with superiority or distrust. When we had an aquarium, he would sit on top of the cover, and leisurely swipe his paw down by the glass to scare the fish. He loved mangoes; I remember peeling mangoes at the kitchen sink, and he would jump up and lick the mango juice on the peels. I would cut up small pieces of mango and feed them to him.

The day that we adopted our dog, she was eight weeks old, and I wrote in my journal, “She came up to both of us, then chewed on an electrical cord, examined slippers and shoes, tried to escape into the next room, chewed on more shoelaces, almost escaped out the front door, examined some weight-lifting equipment, then wandered back to the electrical cord before we put her back in the enclosure.”

Our cat wasn’t excited to meet her. I noted, “He retreats to the kitchen countertop, where he can look down on her suspiciously. She learned that he has a food dish, and keeps trying to steal his food when we’re not looking.”

When our son was born, our dog was very gentle and patient him. She let him pull on her tail and even sit on her as if she were a horse. But one day when he was about a year old, she was a diaper thief… I heard her chewing on something, and when I looked over, it was my son’s diaper! She had stolen it right off him, and he was standing in his onesie. We don’t know how she stole it or why he let her steal it without raising a fuss.

To say goodbye to our dog, my 11-year old son wrote this poem:

I miss my dog by BWL
The morning I wake up and I lean over, hoping to see her precious face, and now gone,
Leaving for school, I would say my goodbyes, now I truly say one last goodbye,
As we come home, I still imagine and wish I could see her beautiful head and tail in the window of my door,
When we eat dinner I can hear her barking for demanding more food, wish I still could hear it.
Before bed, I miss her comforting us, I miss her furry smell, I miss her loud barks, I miss everything about her.

If you are thinking of adopting a pet, or if you want a refresher on how to take care of your pet, the Hawaiian Humane Society has a collection of helpful resources on their “Pets are Family” page.

Do you have a pet in your life? What is the best thing about your relationship with your pet?

Communicating is critical to first aid

February 13, 2018

One afternoon, a client came into the office. He said he just wanted to rest. He sat in a chair, and then did a controlled slide to the floor. He stretched out on the carpet and fell asleep. I could see and hear that he was breathing easily, and he didn’t seem to be in any distress. I thought I might let him sleep, because I didn’t feel unsafe, but after a while I decided I needed help. The pastor at the church came to wake him up and escort him out of the office.

That experience stayed with me. I didn’t know what to do, and eventually I went to get help. But I wanted to know what I could do, as well as what it’s okay not to do. So I signed up for an American Red Cross CPR/AED/First Aid class.

The class was a combination of videos, discussion, and practical skills. We had an experienced instructor who gave us practical advice. The steps we are asked to take are simpler and less intimidating. Instead of worrying, How will I remember those steps? I found myself thinking, I could do that.

The most important thing I learned is communication.

ASK someone in distress if they need help. ASK if they are in pain, have allergies, or take medication. ASK if it’s okay for you to help them – get their consent – or, if it’s a child, ASK if a parent or guardian is present and get their consent.

Next, INFORM them about what you are doing. INFORM them that you are going to apply pressure to a cut or check their head for a wound. If they are choking, INFORM them that you are putting your arm around the front of their shoulder to support them as they lean over, so you can do back blows. It can be scary for someone who doesn’t realize that you are trying to help.

Then, TELL bystanders exactly what they can do to help. TELL them to call 911 and why –there’s a leg injury from a bicycle accident or a head injury or an unresponsive person. TELL them to find an AED (automated external defibrillator) — and if they can’t find one, to come back quickly. TELL them to look for an ambulance and escort them to the patient, or keep the crowd back.

I am so glad that I took the class, because just reading a first aid manual can be overwhelming. It may tell you what to do, but not how to act. Even if I never use the things I learned, I feel a little more confident about handling myself in an emergency.

You, me, all of us are often the first responders in a crisis. It’s up to us to evaluate a scene, offer aid or comfort, and call 911.

Have you ever taken a CPR/First Aid class? Have you ever helped someone or been helped in an emergency? How do you react in a crisis?

Health insurance hunter

February 6, 2018

I work for a small nonprofit organization in Hawaii, and it was eye-opening to enter the mysterious world of health insurance coding and billing. Every medical procedure is reduced to numbers: provider account numbers, tax IDs, subscriber account numbers, dates of birth, diagnosis codes that prove medical necessity, and billing codes.

Sometimes, the confusing, frustrating, and impersonal claims process makes me long for a single-payer health care system.

Some days I have to be a health insurance hunter. Here are a few stories…

Who’s the payer? We submitted a claim to Payer A, but they denied the claim. Payer A said that yes, the client has insurance, the client had a “replacement” plan, and Payer B is responsible. Payer B said that yes, they are the insurance provider, but they are the secondary payer. We need to bill Payer C, and then submit a claim to Payer B.

There’s a lesson here: because of privacy issues, health insurance companies can’t share information indiscriminately. When there is more than one health insurance plan, clients have the responsibility to contact their plan administrators.

Where’s the claim? We submitted a claim to Payer D. Months went by, and we didn’t receive either a reimbursement or a denial letter. Payer D told us that the claim was rejected because of an error, but no rejection letter was sent. If we hadn’t called, we would not have known about the denied claim. We were able to resubmit the claim, and were eventually paid.

 Where’s the payment? We submitted a claim to Payer E. Months went by, and we didn’t receive either a reimbursement check or a denial letter. Payer E told us that we were “out of network” and that they sent a check directly to the client months ago. We didn’t know it, but the client was supposed to pay for the service out-of-pocket and Payer E would send them a reimbursement check. This has only happened twice so far.

Where’s the authorization? We submitted a claim to Payer F, but they required an authorization for services. We submitted the authorization request, but Payer F told us it was the wrong form. We submitted the correct form, but Payer F told us the provider number was wrong. We submitted the corrected form, but Payer F told us that another, optional part of the form was incomplete. Lesson:

What’s the deductible? Payer G denied a claim, and we needed to find out why. The claim was submitted correctly and the procedure was covered under the plan. We learned that the client had an annual deductible that has to be met before Payer F paid any claims. With health insurance premiums rising, many people (myself included) are moving to less expensive plans with higher deductibles. These deductibles are quickly becoming a serious problem for people with chronic illnesses or conditions.

Despite the aggravation, at the end of the day, I don’t think a single-payer health care system would be an improvement. It might be simpler, but it would be more restrictive and less flexible, because clients and providers would have no choice and little power to fight against denials and reimbursements.

Are you satisfied with the way your health insurance company works with your doctors? Have you generally had easy or frustrating experiences with medical claims?


Artwork courtesy of

“The Healers” by Kimo Armitage

February 3, 2018

“The Healers” (2016) by Kimo Armitage is a young adult novel about birth, death, transformation, faith, kindness (“kindness not wanted to unkindness”), the healing power of prayer, and learning that “as bad as the pain gets and as hard as the lesson is, if we succeed, the reward will be great.”

It tells the story of a family of healers: Mary Lei, Tutu (grandmother) who raised Keola and Pua; her twin brother Hanalei, the guardian of the family aumakua Kaleihepule, who accepted that it was his time to die (“He never regretted that he was a Hawaiian, and he knew that made all the difference in the world”); and cousins Keola and Pua, who were raised by Tutu to learn Native Hawaiian healing. Keola and Pua learn the healing effects of prayer, a connection with nature, and the power of hope (“if there is no hope, there is no cure”). Their paths diverge as Keola goes to Waianae for further training and Pua falls in love with Tiki and gets pregnant.

Set in contemporary times, there are stories within stories, as Tutu tells of Kawanana and Kealo of Waialua, who had faith in the gods; and her cousin Laka of Kalaupapa, who was born without arms and legs. Their stories are part of Keola and Pua’s history, giving them a connection with the past.

Their story is juxtaposed with the story of Tiki, the young man who falls in love with Pua. Tiki’s grandmother loved him so greatly that she saved his life by sacrificing his future wife and child. Tiki was never taught to connect with his healing abilities or his aumakua, and he shows both an angry, vengeful side and a devotion to Pua, as love makes him want to be a better person.

The writing is poetical, nostalgic, with a strong sense of spirituality, a connection with nature, and the truth of dreams. We see the importance of children who are a gift. We see the devastating impact of leprosy on families, as family members were exiled to Kalaupapa. We see how being disconnected from family and nature can lead to anger and vindictiveness.

There are Hawaiian chants and interpretations, which give us insight into the poetic and symbolic quality of the Hawaiian language. For example, Keola chants: “I am without a house, it has fallen in Luhi./The ridgepole is unsteady,/ The thatching has been undone by the Ahiu wind./There is no pilo grass, no sennit.” In this part of the chant, “He also gives the listener a reason for his visit: Keola was looking for a teacher. He was looking for someone who could repair a house. A man is a house and a house is a man.”

There is also insight into the symbolism of nature for healing: “Keola placed slips of morning glory in the car. He also placed fingers of bananas, coconut cordage, octopus, and spiderwebs in various gourds on the back seat. He was coming back with these symbols of knowledge. Kanaloa represented this deep knowledge. The physical shape of these things represented the connections that one makes in learning. A length of cordage between two people or between one person and knowledge was a pathway.”

Just as story-telling is a connection between two people, teaching understanding and possibilities.