Updated 

State’s health care website far short of goal


During the first four months of enrollment, 3,614 individuals statewide signed up online for insurance plans offered through the Hawaii Health Connector marketplace.

That’s according to a report issued Feb. 12 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, covering all enrollments across the country between Oct. 1 and Feb. 1.

That number had climbed to 3,879 as of Feb. 8, according to an update on the Hawaii Health Connector’s website, but that still leaves the total number of enrollees at only 43 percent of the state’s goal of 9,000, with a little under a month and a half to go before the Affordable Care Act’s mandated March 31 deadline.

The massive federal effort to insure millions of uninsured people across the country has been slowed since the launch of open enrollment in October, with technical glitches foiling many people’s attempts to enroll. Hawaii is one of 14 states that opted to offer their own websites to access health coverage under the federal mandate.

The state has been hit hard by criticisms over the operation of the Health Connector, due to its high price tag, lagging enrollment and difficulties experienced by users. In early December, the National Review ranked the Hawaii health exchange as the nation’s worst.

According to enrollment numbers as of Feb. 1, Hawaii had the lowest number of enrollees in the country. However, it had enrolled a higher percentage of its target number of 9,000 than 21 other states across the country.

There are a number of bills currently working their way through the legislature aimed at improving the performance of the Hawaii Health Connector. Several, such as House Bill 2529, took the approach of bringing the Hawaii Health Connector under direct state control, as opposed to being run as a private entity. The idea is that it would give legislators greater oversight over how the program is run.

After its latest revision, however, HB 2529 dropped converting the connector to a state entity, and instead proposes to leave it as a private organization.

“Your Committee finds that the operations and financial administration of the Connector deserve closer review to ensure transparency and sustainability,” reads a report by the House Committee on Consumer Protection &Commerce, which read and amended the bill on Feb. 13. “Your Committee believes that these objectives may be achieved by the Connector in its existing form but with closer engagement with stakeholders and oversight by the Legislature.”

As the newest draft reads, a new insurers advisory group and an insurance producers advisory group would be established to offer input and recommendations to the Connector’s board of directors. Meanwhile, the makeup and size of the Connector’s board would be changed. The bill next goes to the House Committee on Finance.

Meanwhile, as lawmakers look to shore up the Connector from the outside, the organization is making efforts to increase its efficacy. The Health Connector announced earlier this month that it was launching a new phase of its enrollment drive, focusing on strategic print and radio advertising to encourage uninsured residents to set up appointments with members of a statewide network of community partners, known as Kokua, to help enroll in an insurance plan.

The communications and enrollment events have been targeted at individuals who are more likely to benefit from the Hawaii Health Connector’s services, according to a press release issued earlier this month.

“We’re taking a more strategic, cost-efficient approach in the way we reach prospective customers,” said Tom Matsuda, the Connector’s interim executive director. “Providing personalized one-to-one assistance is one of our greatest strengths, and we’re encouraging individuals and families to make appointments with Kokua.”

This weekend will mark the Hawaii Health Connector’s “Weekend of Action,” in which it encourages the state’s uninsured to take the initiative and sign up for a health plan.

“Enrollment and outreach efforts will be happening statewide, with Kokua on hand to help residents with the enrollment process,” read a Thursday press release.

Among the events, the Big Island’s will take place 9 a.m.-noon at the Honokaa Farmers Market on Saturday.

Interim Executive Director Tom Matsuda added the Connector had recently focused “significant time and resources to reach out and educate younger adults about the value of health insurance coverage, because many may feel coverage is not necessary or an added expense and not realize that a health plan is designed to help cover costs for unexpected medical expenses such as a biking or surfing accident.”

The Affordable Care Act allows individuals up to age 26 to be covered under their parents’ plan. Those older than 26 need to obtain coverage through their employer or through the insurance marketplace.

Another new service on the website is an island-specific landing page to more efficiently help uninsured people find help. Each page contains contact information for program specialists and community partners. Hawaii Island’s page can be found at HawaiiHealthConnector.com/HawaiiIsland.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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