Mark Twain once said that "no one’s life, liberty or property is safe when the legislature is in session." At the opening ceremony of the state Senate this week, one had a greater sense of optimism. Present were a host of current and past governors, our two U.S. senators, the state attorney general and top entertainers including the delightful Kamehameha choir and our own Willie K. Those present were reminded that we do live in a functioning democracy, however imperfect.
As a physician, I am delighted that Dr. Josh Green is chairman of the Senate Health Committee. With Sen. Green (D, Milolii-Waimea) in this post, we have someone who knows our health care system from the inside. Based on the island of Hawaii, Green works in the Kapaau Emergency Room and understands the issues firsthand. He has seen it all.
I had an opportunity to interview Green, his policy adviser and broader team and was impressed by the expression of commitment to service, and the clear strategy in place. The major thrust this session is safety, access and prevention with special attention to Hawaii’s children. He is already working on bills to increase the penalty for DUI, making the second offense a felony. He also insists on helmets for minors riding ATVs. As an emergency room doctor, he has seen far too many tragedies in those who thought they would rather enjoy the wind in their hair.
Access, particularly on neighbor islands, continues to be a priority issue. The Hawaii Health Corps, says Green, can help fix this problem. New physicians commit to working for up to five years where needed and, in return, receive loan repayments at the tune of 20 percent per year of their existing debt. For many new graduates, medical school debt can hover around $200,000.
"Childhood obesity is the next smoking," said Green. Our youth become habituated to an unhealthy diet and lifestyle at an early age. Far too many of our health care dollars go to treating the secondary health problems that stem from obesity: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and arthritis. Preliminary discussions with some big players are already under way.
Remember, democracy is only as good as the vision of its voters and the integrity and capacity of its elected representatives. The showboating that resulted in the moot vote to repeal health care reform in Washington, D.C., recently, however strategic, is a poor use of taxpayer dollars and a crying shame.
Hopefully, this legislative session in Hawaii will provide a better example of how government can work to the benefit of the people.