Hawaii urges residents to ‘tell a friend’ about Obamacare


THUMBS UP HAWAII: New campaign encourages HI residents to tell a friend about Obamacare

By Malia Zimmerman | Watchdog.org

HONOLULU — The Hawaii Health Connector, the local Obamacare exchange, has a new campaign to boost enrollment — “Tell a friend.”

“Let your family and friends know you care about their health and happiness; forward this email and tell them to get covered!” the ad says.

The exchange pushes government subsidies, as well.

“Many people are now eligible for new or improved coverage. You may be eligible for subsidized premiums if you make up to $52,920 a year as an individual or up to $108,360 for a family of four,” it says.

The exchange formed partnerships with about 30 community agencies, issuing hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to boost enrollment. The Sovereign Councils of the Hawaiian Homelands Assembly got the most recent grant, $675,000, on Tuesday. The group will try to recruit people by visiting homes of native Hawaiians who live on one of 34 state-managed properties for native Hawaiians.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie predicted “hundreds of thousands of people” in Hawaii would register for Obamacare, yet it has the nation’s lowest enrollment numbers, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said last month.

The report says 4,467, people have signed up, but that number could be even lower because it’s not clear whether those people have paid for their insurance.

The Hawaii Health Connector received $204 million from the federal government to set up the exchange through 2014, and it’s supposed to be self-sustaining by 2015.

The current business model relies on a 2 percent sign-up fee from each plan, but that hinges on as many as 300,000 people signing up.

The House passed measures allowing the state to take over and increase fees. The legislation also asks for more transparency from the exchange, which, citing its nonprofit status, has refused to disclose key data.

House Health Committee Chairman Della Au Belatti said it will cost the state $15 million a year to subsidize Obamacare.

Based on expenditures in other states with similar populations, the cost could be higher — $18 million to $24 million a year — said Senate President Donna Mercado Kim.

Kim opposes a state takeover and points to the exorbitant cost for each enrollee — $45,668.

Hawaii, she said, has had a successful health-care system since 1976 , the Prepaid Healthcare Act, which requires business owners to offer insurance to employees who work more than 20 hours per week. Kim, a Democrat running for Congress, asked why President Obama failed to exempt Hawaii from federal law.

Kim has been critical of Montreal-based CGI Group Inc, which created Hawaii’s portal. The company got $53 million for the site, which for more than two weeks failed to work after it launched Oct. 1. The site relaunched Oct. 15, but ongoing complaints include cumbersome technology, frequent crashes after forms are filled out and submitted, confusion over plan pricing and scrambled information transmitted to the health-care providers.

Reach Malia Zimmerman at Malia@hawaiireporter.com

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