Policy: Health Care

House bills aim to fix Hawaii health care exchange

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Associated Press,Hawaii,Health Care,Health Care Exchanges

HONOLULU — Leaders of two key committees in the Hawaii House on Thursday introduced a package of bills to help fix the state's troubled health care exchange.

One measure would make the Hawaii Health Connector a state entity, and another would change the composition of the exchange's board.

Democratic Reps. Della Au Belatti and Angus McKelvey said their bills aim to ensure the exchange's financial stability while improving transparency and reliability.

"Our goal in the House is to have a full-throated discussion about what Health Connector should look like, how it can be restructured to fulfill the needs of our community," said Belatti, who represents Makiki and Manoa.

Bellatti, chairwoman of the House's Health Committee, and McKelvey, chairman of the commerce committee, said at least seven bills have been introduced that would restructure the exchange.

McKelvey, who represents West Maui and North Kihei, said there was no such thing as a quick fix to the exchange's issues.

The online insurance marketplace under President Barack Obama's federal health care overhaul had numerous initial problems, including a late start to open enrollment and few signups.

The Hawaii Health Connector is paid for with about $200 million in federal grants and is required to be self-sufficient by 2015. But lawmakers said they worry the exchange won't be able to support itself.

The exchange's current plan for self-sufficiency calls for funding to come from 2 percent fees charged to insurers on plans sold through the exchange. Figures released this month by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said fewer than 2,200 people signed up for individual plans in Hawaii as of Dec. 28.

The exchange started open enrollment two weeks late because of software problems. Its executive director later resigned, citing personal reasons and saying she was not asked to step down.

The exchange has its own board and operates separately from state agencies. But it reports to the Legislature.

Belatti said the connector might work better as a state entity in part because then it would be subject to stronger requirements for transparency in its operations.

Becoming a state agency could also ensure the exchange has enough money to stay afloat. Lawmakers will have to study what the exchange's operating budget is and determine whether it can sustain itself with the revenue it has, Belatti said.

"We have to look at all options," she said.

Lawmakers have been told the connector needs $15 million annually to function, Belatti said.

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