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HI’s troubled health-care exchange draws congressional attention

By   /   March 31, 2014  /   No Comments

Photo courtesy of Hawaii Health Connector

Hawaii Health Connector sign ups still come in at less than 1 percent of the state’s population.

By Malia Zimmerman | Watchdog.org

HONOLULU — A Hawaii state senator wants the Government Accountability Office to investigate a $204 million federal grant to the state’s health-care exchange.

The senator’s complaint comes less than a week before Hawaii Health Connector interim director Tom Matsuda is scheduled to testify before a congressional subcommittee about the exchange Thursday.

Representatives from several states, including Hawaii, were asked to appear.

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom asked the GAO to investigate because he’s worried about a possible waste of federal money.

Hawaii contracted with CGI Corp. to develop the Hawaii Health Connector website, but there’s been a number of technical problems and delays.

“Because of similar problems, the federal government and other states who had also contracted with CGI Corp. cut ties with the vendor. To date, Hawaii has spent over $80 million on information technology contracts, though the site still does not function properly. … Over five months later, technical problems continue to plague the connector,” Slom said.

The connector is not integrated with the Medicaid system, even though Hawaii’s enrollment process requires that consumers be screened for Medicaid eligibility before seeking coverage, Slom said.

As of March 17, just 5,400 people enrolled for health insurance in Hawaii, Slom said, despite predictions by Gov. Neil Abercrombie that “hundreds of thousands of people” would enroll.

The connector contracted with 30 community organizations to help with public outreach, which Slom called a waste of money.

“As part of this last-ditch enrollment effort, the connector sent representatives to Planned Parenthood, grocery stores and other public places to separately walk individuals through enrollment. This one-on-one enrollment process is extremely inefficient, and the creation of an online enrollment portal was supposed to avoid this wastefulness,” Slom said.

“Even more disturbing is the lack of transparency regarding requirements attached to federal grant money and connector’s expenditure reports. Since the connector is operated by the state as a nonprofit organization, and is governed by a board of directors, it has been nearly impossible for legislators or the general public to get any specific information regarding HHC’s budget and expenditures. Requests for details have been either denied or ignored,” Slom said.

Hawaii will not receive additional federal grants, Matsuda told Hawaii lawmakers in a recent Senate briefing. Hawaii taxpayers will likely fund the exchange in future years, unless enrollment, and fees, increase substantially.

Matsuda did not comment on either Slom’s GAO complaint or his appearance before Congress on Thursday. The congressional hearing will be streamed at oversight.house.gov

Reach Malia Zimmerman at Malia@hawaiireporter.com

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“Fearless, fair, intrepid, gets to the truth.” These are words used to describe news reporting by Malia Zimmerman and her small reporting staff at the investigative news organization she co-founded in Honolulu 12 years ago, Hawaii Reporter. Besides publishing daily news reports online at Watchdog.org and HawaiiReporter.com/, Malia hosts a weekly half hour television show, News Behind the News, which features Hawaii congress members, governors, and other local leaders, and she reports daily for KHVH News Radio 830 AM, a local Clear Channel station. She also hosts a monthly inspirational television magazine show on the local CBS and NBC affiliates called You've Got the Power. Malia produced a special investigative report for ABC 20/20 and has been interviewed on that show. Malia also has been a freelancer for People magazine, Inside Edition, Fox News and other national publications including the Wall Street Journal. Malia and Hawaii Reporter have been featured in numerous media outlets around the world including ABC 20/20, Bangkok Post, Business Week, Drudge Report, Forbes.com, Fox News, Radio Australia, United Press International, Wall Street Journal and Washington Times foreign bureau. Malia and the reporters who worked under her have won numerous awards for their investigative reporting including the highest award presented by the Society of Professional Journalists for public service reporting in 2012 as well as investigative reporting in 2012.