Health Care

Hawaii Health Connector director steps down after health exchange’s failure

The woman charged with implementing the Affordable Care Act in Hawaii through the insurance exchange Hawaii Health Connector will step down amidst controversy over its failed launch.

Coral Andrews, executive director of Hawaii Health Connector for the past two years, said Friday she will not seek to renew her contract. She will leave her post Dec. 6.

Hawaii Health Connector received $200 million in federal funding to set up the website and network of more than 30 providers where individuals and small businesses can sign up for health care through local insurers and find out about tax credits and federal subsidies.

The website, developed by CGI Group, cost $53 million, but failed on its launch Oct. 1.

Users complained they tried for hours to apply for health care plans, but the site froze and crashed, and users weren’t able to sign up or determine their eligibility for tax credits or other federal subsidies.

On Oct. 15, health care plans available to local users and pricing information were posted online, but some users complained the website was still having technical difficulties.

Obamacare advocates, including Gov. Neil Abercrombie, predicted at least 100,000 uninsured Hawaii residents, or 8 percent of the population, would sign up for health care through the website.

As of Nov. 15, just 257 individuals have secured health care through the exchange. Some 113 employers submitted applications though the exchange, but have not yet selected plans.

The current cost breakdown is about $778,000 in federal funds for each Hawaii individual who successfully signed up for health care.

That follows a national trend. Just 106,000 people across America selected medical plans through in October.

Those familiar with the exchange system’s glitches said the enrollment figures aren’t accurate, in part because information entered into the system doesn’t always transfer correctly to health insurance providers — it’s scrambled — so insurance companies cannot process it. Also, applications can be submitted several times because of technical glitches and those just checking out the exchange with no plans to sign up can falsely inflate user figures.

Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said during a recent hearing that she had warned Andrews not to hire CGI Group because the company also had developed the troubled $87 million Hawaii state tax department website, which the state must spend as much as $50 million to fix.

CGI Group is the same company that developed, which, according to a congressional inquiry, cost more than $600 million, but hasn’t functioned properly.

Individuals and small businesses seeking insurance must enroll by Dec. 15 to get coverage that begins Jan. 1.

Tom Matsuda, ACA implementation manager with Abercrombie’s office, will serve as interim executive director of Hawaii Health Connector, beginning Dec. 9.

He takes over the helm as some 30,000 Hawaii residents with individual plans and 140,000 people under small business plans were scheduled to lose their insurance plans as of Jan. 1.

Hawaii Insurance Commissioner Gordon Ito has asked Hawaii health insurance companies to continue offering plans that were going to be cancelled by the end of the year because they didn’t meet federal coverage requirements under new ACA mandates, but they don’t have to abide by his request. His request comes as President Obama told insurers they can keep customers for another year in plans that would be deemed deficient under ACA.

Hawaii Health Connector Board Chair Sherry Menor-McNamara thanked Andrews for her service “during a critical time and against a very challenging backdrop.”

“Coral played a key role in building the Hawaii Health Connector, securing funding and building a network of public and private stakeholders throughout the state,” she said.

A search for a permanent executive director for the Hawaii Health Exchange is now under way. Matsuda said he will not apply for the permanent position.