Isle health insurance enrollment via website still unclear [The Honolulu Star-Advertiser]
(Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Nov. 03--More than one month after its planned start date, the Hawaii Health Connector still can't say how many people have actually enrolled in health insurance plans via the online marketplace created by President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
Hawaii was the last state in the nation to begin selling health plans to the public on the exchange and has had a slow start with many of the so-called marketplace assisters assigned to seek out the uninsured and enroll them in coverage.
The Connector failed to launch at the start of open enrollment Oct. 1 because of software problems. It eventually went live two weeks later, but has since had a number of glitches, limiting enrollment in health coverage.
Connector call center representatives said Friday that the marketplace designed to match lower-income consumers with subsidized health plans is still having problems with links to applications being down, preventing some people from enrolling on hawaiihealthcon- nector.com. Consumers must be enrolled on the Connector by Dec. 15 to be covered at the start of the year.
"It is taking too long. We're not the only ones who had glitches, but I think what is really troublesome is how all the parts didn't come together," said Barbara Kim Stanton, AARP Hawaii state director. "We understand that the assisters, the ones that are supposed to help the consumers, are still not completely on board. They haven't had contracts, haven't been trained. There are people that have health needs that can't wait."
Connector Executive Director Coral Andrews didn't respond to requests for comment. The only two insurers on the Connector, Hawaii Medical Service Association and Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, also didn't provide enrollment figures to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Human Services said it has enrolled more than 6,000 on Medicaid since open enrollment began Oct. 1. Consumers applying for tax credits on the Connector must first go through the DHS system and be deemed ineligible for Medicaid.
Aside from the technical difficulties, many people still don't understand the federal health reform law requiring most Americans get coverage next year or face penalties.
The Connector's last Web update on Oct. 26 said that it now has 31 marketplace assisters that have trained 86 "kokua," or helpers, to assist individuals, families and small businesses through the enrollment process.
In August the Connector awarded $6.7 million in grants to 34 community organizations and said the money would be used to hire 191 assisters to help consumers and small businesses on each island.
Waianae Coast Community Mental Health Center Inc., doing business as Hale Naau Pono, has yet to enroll a single person on the Connector.
"We haven't enrolled anyone on the Connector because either they will be on Medicaid or they may be eligible for tax credits (and are going through the eligibility process)," said Catherine Lin-Kee, program supervisor for the marketplace assister program. "Because it's a new thing ... we're slowly transitioning to educating the community. They're really negative (initially) about the whole Obamacare plan."
The Connector has received $205 million in federal grants to market and build its state-based exchange, with an ambitious goal to enroll as many as 300,000 residents, including an estimated 100,000 uninsured.
But the Connector has had a rough start. The nonprofit organization that the state Legislature established in 2011 was criticized by some for a slow marketing campaign and the delayed contracting of marketplace assisters.
David Derauf, executive director of Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services, said Friday that his staff was certified in just the last week to enroll people on the Connector.
"We haven't seen a whole lot of interest yet. We've seen a lot of interest on the Medicaid side," he said. "We've definitely processed a lot more applications for Medicaid. Many of the people that we're talking to that most stand to benefit may not have heard about it. They are just getting up to speed. There's a lot of confusion out there."
Drew Astolfi, executive director for Faith Action for Community Equity, signed a $2 million contract with the Connector this week.
"We're just beginning to grapple with it," Astolfi said. "We had a plan to hire a group of (outreach workers), and now it's just later than we planned to do it. We're not the only state where it's been late, but we've been late."
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