Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Consumer advocates lash out at Abercrombie appointments to health exchange board

By Dave Segal


Railing against a potential conflict of interest, a group of consumer groups and community organizations called for a House committee today to amend a bill to exclude representatives of three health insurers appointed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to a federally mandated health insurance exchange.

The consumer advocates said during a press conference in the Capitol Rotunda that allowing Hawaii Medical Service Association, Kaiser Permanente Hawaii and Hawaii Dental Service to remain on the 11-member exchange board would be a conflict of interest because they will have a direct financial stake in decisions of the exchange, known as the Hawaii Health Connector. The consumer groups said as many as 100,000 Hawaii residents are currently without health insurance and that the exchange, due to begin in January 2014, would represent a new market valued at an estimated $300 million.

The representative of a fourth health plan provider, Ohana Health Plan, withdrew his name as a nominee today after accepting a position at Kaiser.

Consumer advocates said the alleged conflict would prevent the insurers from acting in the public interest and said that the insurers could be more fairly utilized as technical consultants but not actual members of the board. A hearing on SB2434 was heard today by the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce.

Although an earlier amendment to the bill recognized that the board needed more consumer protection, the consumer advocates said those additional consumers would not join the board for at least two years. That will be after the operational decisions of the Health Connector will have been made, the consumer advocates said.

On Friday, the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection will hold a confirmation hearing for the governor’s 10 remaining nominees to the exchange.

The federal Affordable Care Act requires all states to set up health insurance exchanges or use a federal exchange that will match uninsured individuals to subsidized health-care plans.

The group opposing the nominees includes the Hawaii Coalition for Health, Americans for Democratic Action/Hawaii, Kokua Council, Progressive Democrats of Hawaii, United Self Help, Mental Health America of Hawaii, Hawaii Disability Rights Center, and AARP Hawaii.

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