Hawaii's aging population major concern, kupuna care top priority

Hawaii's aging population major concern, kupuna care top priority
Steve Tam
Steve Tam

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Governor Neil Abercrombie will lay out his administration's focus for the next year during the State of the State Address Tuesday morning, and one of the key issues he's expected to touch on is Hawaii's rapidly growing elderly population.

Gov. Abercrombie has long touted his commitment to taking care of Hawaii's seniors.  In 2013, he requested a 75% funding increase for the Executive Office of Aging to expand the state's health care and social support resources.

In the next 20 years, nearly a third of the state's population will be over the age of 60.  Officials say kupuna care is considered a major state priority – so much so, House and Senate lawmakers have combined their efforts to introduce three bills this session that will address funding programs for aging, preventing financial abuse and educating seniors about the critical need to save for long-term care.

"We're heading for a perfect storm.  There are record numbers of people going to become seniors," described Representative Gregg Takayama (D – Pearl City, Waimalu, Pacific Palisades).

According to Steve Tam, Director of Advocacy for AARP Hawai'i, 2014 will be a major turning point for the state as the youngest baby boomers turn 50 this year.  Here in Hawai'i, the average person lives to 82. Officials say the demand for senior services is quickly outpacing the ability to care for them.

Lawmakers say providing support for Hawai'i's burgeoning elderly population is critical and they've introduced a bill to allocate $6.6 million to fund health care and social services.

"What we need to do as a Legislature is look for ways to make it easier for people, number one, to stay in their own homes, and two, when they do need to go into nursing care services – to find ways to make it affordable for all families," explained Takayama, Co-Chair of the Legislature's Kupuna Caucus.

House Bill 1713 also asks for $500,000 to launch an awareness campaign to educate seniors about the need to save for long-term care.

"The money is just a drop in the bucket.  You have 456,000 people that are sooner or later going to be affected by long-term care and care-giving.  They need to start planning now," described Tam.

Officials say many seniors believe Medicare or their private health insurance will cover the costs of long-term nursing homes when they're no longer able to care for themselves, but that's not the case.  Most become financial burdens on their family.  According to Tam, private nursing homes in Hawai'i cost nearly 50% more than anywhere else in the country, with an average price of nearly $145,000 a year. The only other option seniors who haven't saved face is to surrender nearly all their financial assets to qualify for Medicaid – in which case, taxpayers pick up the cost.

"There's a silver tsunami – that's what it's being called these days, and it's moving," described Senator Brickwood Galuteria (D – Kakaako, McCully, Waikiki).

Galuteria says as Hawai'i's elderly population grows, so has a predatory environment fueled by sophisticated scams – which is why legislators are also asking for $50,000 to fund outreach efforts to prevent financial abuse of seniors.

"You're saving all your life, you're working for a good quality of your golden years and then boom – all of a sudden these scams come into your life.  So we want to ensure that people know the services that the state has to offer.  Already we have some good laws, some good policies, but I think education and information is big on that one too," said Senate Majority Leader Galuteria.

Governor Neil Abercrombie will deliver his fourth State of the State Address in at the State Capitol in House Chambers at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Hawaii News Now will be live-streaming on-air and online.

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