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Connector not working; residents call both insurers

October 3, 2013
By OSKAR GARCIA , The Associated Press

HONOLULU - Some Hawaii residents are turning directly to health insurance companies to find out about plans being offered under the state's online health exchange.

Plans to be sold through the Hawaii Heal-th Connector still weren't available for browsing and buying on Wednesday, a day after they were scheduled to go up. Software problems mean consumers are able to do nothing more with the exchange than give basic information over a Web form, with the promise of being contacted in a few weeks.

Connector officials declined immediate comment Wednesday. On Tuesday, Chief Marketing Officer Rick Budar said the exchange hopes to have the plans up sometime this month, but that state residents have told connector officials they don't want to browse plans right away, anyway.

He said 500 people had filled out applications by midday Tuesday.

The Hawaii Medical Service Association and Kaiser Permanente have details of their plans on their websites. Consumers can purchase the plans but won't get tax subsidies unless they buy through the state-run exchange.

"If people want to explore the subsidies, they'll have to go through the connector," said Laura Lott, a spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente in Hawaii.

Elisa Yadao, a senior executive for HMSA, said about four in five phone calls to a neighborhood call center the insurance company opened Tuesday near downtown Honolulu were about individual or group plans or the federal law.

Tom Matsuda, the manager in charge of implementing the Affordable Care Act for Gov. Neil Abercrombie's office, said he had not heard from exchange officials on the timing of a fix.

Richard Gamberg, a 61-year-old Honolulu resident who is self-employed and uninsured, said he's upset that the connector isn't communicating better.

"I think I'm through with Hawaii Health Connector," Gamberg said Wednesday after tweeting messages to the connector and complaining about the exchange to state lawmakers.

He said the connector should not have waited to tell users that plans wouldn't be available to browse.

"They've got ads in the newspaper, they've got ads on the TV. It just flabbergasts me," said Gamberg, who has been checking the website regularly to find information about health savings accounts and how much he'll pay.

Gamberg said he called the connector's helpline Tuesday and reached an agent who seemed just as frustrated as him, having gone home from work Monday thinking the plans would be up as expected once open enrollment started.

Gamberg said he planned to go directly to HMSA and Kaiser.

Alexandra Grossman, 27, of Kapaa, Kauai, said she'd been counting on the website functioning properly and thought at first that she was doing something wrong by not being able to browse plans. She only found out the plans weren't available after getting a comment back from the connector in a Facebook thread.

"We want consumers to have a good experience on, so we're taking a bit more time to make sure that the eligibility and tax credit determination and enrollment system works consistently," the exchange commented back to Grossman. "This does not change our timeline."

Grossman said she's worried she won't have enough time to fully consider the plans and their implications.



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