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Legislature’s SB56 would be ‘apocalyptic’ for isle doctors

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“Well, you’ve heard it,” said Keli’i Akina at the end of his “Hawaii Together” program that aired Monday, March 15, 2021, on ThinkTech Hawaii. “We’ve got a problem here in Hawaii for all us, not just for doctors, and it’s time speak to our legislators about some common sense in terms of both the economy and providing a good supply of medical care in our state.”

Akina’s comments followed a half-hour of highly informative conversation with guests Lisa Rantz, president of Hawaii State Rural Health Association and executive director of the Hilo Medical Center Foundation, and Dr. John Wade, a radiologist in Hilo and member of the Hawaii Physician Shortage Crisis Task Force.

The topic was “How tax increases could worsen Hawaii’s doctor shortage,” with the 2021 Legislature’s SB56 being the tax bill of most concern. Wade called the bill potentially “apocalyptic,” for seeking to impose higher marginal tax rates on incomes of a relatively low threshold.

Wade and Rantz also talked about the state general excise tax and low Medicare payments as major reasons for Hawaii’s health care shortage, and lamented the condition of Hawaii’s economy in general.

“When you have people who have been here for generations and generations, and they’re telling their children not to come back when they finish their graduate schools or finish residency programs, that’s not OK, right?” said Rantz.

Added Wade: “I think the economic issues that face Hawaii are larger than what faces physicians alone. … So while we’ve been looking at targeted solutions to the health care shortage — [focusing on higher Medicare payments] at the federal level and … the GET tax and its application to physicians [at the state level] — I think that our legislators and our governor need to look at these larger systemic issues that adversely affect the economic playing field on which all businesses operate in the state.

“If you want to have a healthy 21st century economy, you need to look broadly at the things that you’ve done up to now that aren’t working. You can’t simply continue to do more of the bad ideas that have gotten you into the situation in the first place. I think our political leadership needs to exercise imagination.”

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