It's been more than a week since the Hawaii Health Connector launched with a major glitch -- no way yet for consumers to compare and buy health insurance and avoid federal penalties.
On Wednesday, lawmakers grilled them about what went wrong, while the Connector says a fix should be up within a week.
Always Investigating dug in further to how much it's all costing and when the Connector knew something could go wrong.
The connector is set up as a corporation, a nonprofit that's set to get hundreds of millions in federal grants, expecting to spend more than $60 million just this year. Why wasn't all this enough to have plan-buying ready on Day 1 on Oct. 1? Lawmakers had some tough questions for the connector and KHON2 found more answers.
An all-day hearing at the Capitol put state and Hawaii Health Connector officials on the hot seat over last week's fumble -- the launch of an insurance plan marketplace without the plans.
“It's a very fluid situation where every hour, every day we’re getting more information about the functionality," said Coral Andrews, executive director of the Hawaii Health Connector.
The Connector is now offering a new date, Oct. 15, when they say the plans will be shop-able, if not before. They're still working out kinks of functionality and also getting insurers to wrap up their own testing of whether the right information is popping up.
“We're working every day, every hour, 24 hours just trying to get the system up,” Andrews said. “I would hate to see that the distraction is solely placed on a single date and time and not in acknowledging the greater value this is going to bring to Hawaii.”
The plans themselves have been approved for some time. The Connector meanwhile says it will put up web-links to the insurers offering coverage. The only two selling health at the outset are HMSA and Kaiser. The connector shelved “direct enrollment” as a Day 1 function way back in the spring, as some argue plan-hunting that way takes away the ease of comparison shopping that was supposed to be a hallmark of the law.
“Get them on the table now, let's work through them, so we don't have a complete train wreck at the end of the day,” said Rep. Angus McKelvey of the House Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee. “I'm very concerned about that still especially when they say the website's live and it's obviously very much in progress.”
It's not for lack money. While Connector officials told lawmakers they'd get back to them on a budget, Always Investigating found it.
The Connector has spent millions this year on “Administration,” even budgeting $2 million for a marketing contract, and more than $50 million for the company in charge of the tech side. They're taking in federal grant money in droves, nearly $80 million prior to the launch and more on its way for a project that will have cost more than $200 million in fed spending over four years, including $3.7 million budgeted for travel alone.
With all those resources, how could the Oct. 1 debut still be a thud?
KHON2 asked Andrews, when did you and the board first know there was a risk that it wouldn't be ready by Oct 1?
“I'm not sure I really have an answer to that,” Andrews said. “Things happen really on a day to day basis. We had indications that we were ready to go up.”
But we found red flags.
This summer, enrollment demonstrations were being rescheduled, deferred, removed from agendas.
Earlier than that, enrollment and eligibility was flagged as having critical issues, risks and deliverables. That was in April.
Even before that, back in March, the state's law implementation coordinator Tom Matsuda told the Connector board that time to build a system is short that “between now and Oct. 1 everyone must focus on the successful launch of an initial minimalist version of the exchange.”
“I acknowledge what you're reading to me,” Andrews said when Always Investigating asked her about those Board meeting minutes and documents. “But ‘minimalist’ was, I would say, the context of that in the framework of May, June, July, August -- many more resources were put up against it,” she added. “I would say that that comment had nothing to do with Oct. 1 at all.”
Matsuda told KHON2 that when he said ”minimalist” he still expected plans to be up for browsing and buying by Oct. 1.
Lawmakers expressed other concerns beyond just the date.
"As small businesses see the rate-shock for older workers because of going to an age-based mandatory system, there's an incentive under our prepaid health care act to bring them down below 20 hours,” McKelvey said, “while bringing up your ‘immortals,’ your 26-year-olds and those in their 30s, which have the best age-based rating, to full time.”
Always Investigating will continue to monitor the Hawaii Health Connector situation. Meanwhile we want to know what you're finding when it comes to health care rates for next year, individuals and businesses. Employers, what’s your outlook for hiring and coverage? Comment on our website story, Facebook, or by e-mail.
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