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House to introduce bills to fix health exchange

January 23, 2014 - 9:23pm

HONOLULU — Leaders of two key committees in the Hawaii House say they plan to introduce a package of bills to help fix the state’s troubled health care exchange.

The online insurance marketplace under President Barack Obama’s federal health care overhaul has had numerous problems, including a late start to open enrollment and few sign-ups.

The Hawaii Health Connector is funded with about $200 million in federal grants and is required to be self-sufficient by 2015. But lawmakers have expressed worry that 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.

Democratic Reps. Della Au Belatti and Angus McKelvey say their bills will ensure the exchange’s financial stability while improving transparency and reliability. Belatti is chairwoman of the House’s Health Committee; Kelvey helms its commerce committee. The lawmakers were expected to discuss the bill later Thursday.

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

Blake Oshiro, Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s deputy chief of staff, has said lawmakers could consider several different steps, including mandating more legislators on the exchange’s board or even fully absorbing the exchange into a state agency.

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