Health care push falls short
HONOLULU — Hawaii’s health exchange officials pushed to enroll as many people as possible Monday, the day of a key deadline under President Barack Obama’s overhaul law.
On Monday, about 7,000 people were enrolled in health insurance plans, up from about 5,700 a week ago, said Eric Alborg, deputy executive director of the Hawaii Health Connector.
That’s well below the target of 9,000 enrollees set by the federal government in September, which set state-by-state goals to keep the nation on track to enroll 7 million people. Lawmakers have said the Connector’s goal was to sign up about 100,000 people, the approximate number of uninsured people in Hawaii.
In a hearing Monday, lawmakers on the Senate Ways and Means committee questioned why more of the state’s uninsured population had not been enrolled.
“It’s been six months, and we have 7,000 people,” said Sen. Michelle Kidani, vice chairwoman of Ways and Means.
The Hawaii Health Connector’s customer support center was open until midnight over the weekend and is expected to stay open late again Monday night.
The Connector website has been experiencing peak levels of demand over the past few days, spokesman Bobby Lambrix said. He said that hasn’t led to issues of slow-downs that he’s aware of. But during the late afternoon Monday, the Connector website took up to 1 minute or more to respond to initial clicks to begin the enrollment process or find out about eligibility.
Meanwhile, Hawaii lawmakers weighed options Monday to provide financial support to the exchange, including a fee on insurers who are not participating in the exchange.
Committee members asked how federal grant money has been spent so far. They asked whether vendors who built the technology infrastructure for the exchange had been paid for substandard work.
“Is there any accountability to the original company that did the system?” asked Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland.
The board of Hawaii’s exchange has delayed payments to vendors that did unsatisfactory work, said Kealii Lopez, who represents the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and is on the Connector board.
“The Connector is not going to pay for functionality it has not received,” Lopez said.
Senators, who are considering financial support for the Connector, asked how much the exchange would need from the state to operate, but were told Monday that figure will not be available until after the Connector board of directors meets to hash out its sustainability plan Saturday.
They are waiting until then to meet because that’s when Tom Matsuda, interim executive director, will be back from his trip to Washington to testify before a congressional committee, Lambrix said.
Without knowing that dollar amount, Kidani would vote no on the bill (HB 2529) that includes a sustainability fee on insurers, who oppose the measure, she said.
Connector officials have said previously that the exchange has $15 million per year in operating expenses, but in the future they may actually need a smaller amount, Lopez said.
“I’m clear that people have been disappointed and frustrated,” Lopez said. “We’re not going to leave stones unturned. I realize you’re not going to have any confidence in that until we bring you a number.”
Ige deferred action on the measure until Thursday, but said the committee has to make a decision before Friday. The deadline to apply for a health plan is midnight Monday evening, and those who don’t sign up face a possible federal income tax penalty.
They also may miss the opportunity to sign up for coverage before the open enrollment period ends. Special helpers were available on every island to walk people through the enrollment process.
Anyone who previously had problems using the website should try again, because the website’s performance is improving, Health Connector officials said.
Those that started the process of completing applications will be given a grace period. Those who weren’t able to complete a full application should visit the Health Connector website again and fill out a brief form to “keep their place in line,” Lambrix said.
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