Officials weigh options to keep Health Connector sustainable

Officials weigh options to keep Health Connector sustainable

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Governor Neil Abercrombie says it may be time for the Hawai'i Health Connector to "move in another direction".  His assessment comes one day after the interim executive director of the state-based insurance exchange revealed it won't be sustainable after this year.

"Right now the Legislature is evaluating what's working, what isn't and whether the current approach is still appropriate.  It's fair to say at this point that we might have to move in another direction, but that's because of the good foundation of insured people that we have already and the solid legislation we already have on the books for a number of years and the experience we've had with that.  If we have to change direction or re-direct our orientation, I think we'll be able to do that pretty quickly.  I don't think it will be traumatic.  I think everyone is prepared to move in whatever direction we need to accomplish reaching out to those who still need to be insured," said Gov. Abercrombie.

Federal grants are currently funding the Hawai'i Health Connector, but those dollars run out at the end of the year.  Sign-up fees were supposed to generate enough to cover the $15 million operational costs moving forward, but officials say only 4,457 people have signed up so far.

"The market in Hawai'i is so unique that it's going to be very difficult for us to keep it sustainable the way things are right now, so we need to figure out how to change it to make it more sustainable and more valuable and effective for the people of Hawai'i," explained Tom Matsuda, Hawai'i Health Connector's interim executive director.

Officials now admit it was unlikely from the start the Connector would enroll the 150,000 people minimum needed to cover its costs because only an estimated 100,000 residents are believed to be uninsured and of that number, nearly half are eligible for Medicaid – meaning they don't need the Connector.

"We anticipated a 48,000 increase in our enrollment and we've already surpassed 30,000 in the first four months, so we're pretty much right on track with our expectations.  It's a significant growth in the Medicaid program," described Dr. Kenny Fink, the Med-QUEST Administrator for the Department of Human Services.

Lawmakers say Hawai'i's existing Prepaid Health Care Act, which requires employers to offer insurance to anyone working full-time has created a minimal gap in coverage.

"When people say you want out of the ACA [Affordable Care Act] because you don't support the ACA, no.  We support the ACA completely.  The goals are universal health coverage – we're just getting there closer with the system we have in place already," explained Representative Angus McKelvey, who chairs the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce.

Legislators want to apply for a federal waiver that would allow them to modify the Connector and still meet ACA requirements, but that's not available until 2017.  In the meantime, they plan to focus on improving accountability.

"The challenges that the Health Connector faces for enrollment and eligibility, in some ways, there's nothing we can do Legislatively.  They have to fix that with the work they're doing on the ground, through contracts – and that's stuff the Legislature doesn't get involved in.  What we can get involved in moving forward is the board composition and oversight," explained Representative Della Au Belatti, the House Health Committee Chair.

Open enrollment for the Connector ends March 31, 2014.

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